A GROUP of local residents gathered outside County Hall in Dorchester to protest about cuts to “lifeline” bus services in West Dorset.

Dorset County Council will meet later today and one motion they will discuss is whether to subsidise the X31 bus service from Axminster to Dorchester after operators First Dorset reduced the service as it was financially unviable.

The service has been reduced to two-hourly, while weekly timings will see fewer routes during the evenings. The 7.15pm bus from Dorchester to Axminster via Bridport will be the last evening bus, despite the 5.30pm train from London Waterloo not reaching Dorchester until 8.15pm.

The cuts have also affected local villages such as Martinstown which now has only two buses a day running through the village, one at 8.30am in the morning and one at 5.30pm in the evening, and campaigners gathered outside county hall to encourage county councillors to subsidise the bus service and to collect signatures for a petition urging the council to subsidise the service.

Jon Walker, from Martinstown, described the bus service as a lifeline to people who live in his village.

Mr Walker said: “I have been campaiging from early April to try and save the bus service.

“Those people who do not have cars, and have bus passes, have no other way of getting out of the village. We have one bus that leaves at 8.30am and then nothing until another comes in at 5.30pm.

“I know one 88-year-old lady who thumbs a lift out of the village just so she can go and do her shopping because there is no other way she can get out of the village.

“First have said it is a financial issue and they can’t afford to run the buses so it’s now back to the council for them to look at whether they can subsidise it, and for me, they have to decide whether Martinstown is socially relevant and deserves a bus more than twice a day through the village.

“Everyone in Martinstown is upset by it, it’s a lifeline to the village and I really hope they subsidise it.”

Lee Gerrard, from Bridport, catches the bus two or three times a week to his job in Dorchester as a carer.

He said: “The changes basically mean I will have to call on friends and family to try and get someone to take me to work.

“With the winter coming up as well, they might not want to take me really early in the morning or late at night, so I’m going to have to see if anyone will let me stop over.

“If in the long term I can’t find a lift or somewhere to stay, I might have to give up my job. I feel that in a civilised well-off country, on principle these bus routes must be available, for people going to work, for people who are visiting the area and for local people who want to go out to the cinema or to the pub and don’t want to drive.

“It’s easy to say “how many people use it” but that route should always be an option for local people to have.”