STUDENTS have missed out on college this week because they had no way of getting there after bus routes were scrapped.

Dorset County Council (DCC) has revised its arrangements for Service 40 (Bridport – Yeovil), operated by First, and changes came into force last week when First's Buses of Somerset took over the service on a different timetable.

The following journeys were removed, causing outcry amongst students, parents and teachers:

07.30 Bridport to Yeovil

14.20 Yeovil to Bridport

15.40 Bridport to Yeovil

17.15 Yeovil to Bridport

The changes have left many students unable to get to school or college in time for a 9am start or get home afterwards.

Talks have been taking place between the county council, Yeovil College and the Sir John Colfox Academy in a bid to find a solution but, in the meantime, some college students have had to work from home.

Principal of Yeovil College, John Evans, says he's been working round-the-clock to solve the issues so students can get back to college.

"This whole issue could, and should, have been avoided as the timing of the cessation of the bus 40 route should never have happened mid-way through the courses," said Mr Evans. "The Government is very clear that the staying on age is 18 and yet transport support stops at 16. It makes no sense whatsoever, especially in such a rural area.

"We [DCC and Yeovil College] have come up with a short-term solution in order to get the current students attending college for the rest of the academic year. DCC has donated a minibus to the college for it to use between Bridport /Beaminster to Yeovil daily. We have asked Bridport and Beaminster town councils for contributions to the running costs in order to be able to fund the running of the bus.

"I'm worried about the students affected by this as some have not been able to get in this week. We have been sending them work to do at home. We need to get people back into college as soon as possible and are working round-the-clock for a solution. We are interviewing a bus driver today and hope to get something arranged quickly. This should not be a college responsibility, however, it is essential we get the affected students back into college as soon as possible. The long term solution needs to have the 40 bus reinstated, if only at the beginning and the end of the day."

Colfox headteacher David Herbert said it was 'most unfortunate' the decision to stop the route is affected so many pupils.

"We understand this service is not part of the DCC school bus contact, as these children are choosing to come to Colfox from out of the official catchment area, however this disruption to their travel plans whilst they are in the middle of an academic year is far from ideal," he said. "We hope services might be put back in place to allow these children to travel home more easily and provide a more equitable platform in terms of parental choice."

Carolyn Emett is one of a number of a number of parents to have contacted West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin over the issue.

She said: "I am extremely concerned the 3.45pm bus from Colfox School to Beaminster has been taken off. My daughter is in Year 10 and her GCSEs are only 18 months away, so this is very disruptive for her.

"This is also an equality issue. I have been told that this is 'parental choice' so I shouldn’t expect a public bus to be available for my daughter to get home from school. However, parents in Bridport can choose to send their children to Beaminster, Woodroffe, Colfox or Thomas Hardy - there is public transport to all of them from Bridport. Why then can’t parents in Beaminster choose to send their children to another school and be able to use public transport to send their children there, when Bridport parents have that option?"

Dorset County Council have been approached for comment.

A letter from West Dorset Western Area Transport Action Group (WATAG)

We were pleased to see, in last Thursday's Bridport & Lyme Regis News that our MP, Sir Oliver Letwin, is taking an interest in the dilemma facing commuters and Yeovil College students since the withdrawal of the Dorset County Council (DCC) operated no. 40 bus. Its replacement, operated by Buses of Somerset under contract to DCC, only provides off peak services between Beaminster and Crewkerne and is of limited use to most potential users. We have asked for a meeting with both Buses of Somerset and First Wessex (which operates the no. 6 between Bridport and Beaminster) to see if a more useful and customer focussed joint service can be agreed.

Meanwhile, it is worth reminding ourselves that this route was operated by Damory from 2011 until July 2017, as the 40; it ran Monday to Saturday. During that period the timetable was stable and patronage developed to the extent that, at our January 2017 meeting, Damory advised "that the 40 service was just about commercially viable with assistance from Yeovil College and could probably continue without the hospital “dogleg” subsidy." The decision by DCC to award the bulk of school contracts to First Wessex resulted in Damory giving notice of withdrawal of the 40 route with effect from the end of the school summer term in July 2017. When this was reported in the media, DCC gave an assurance that, as this was part of "the county's strategic interurban public transport network and as such there will be a replacement". However, since September 2017, this route has been split between 2 operators, with the service operating Monday to Friday only. In addition, certain journeys between Bridport and Crewkerne/ Yeovil have required a change of bus and operator in Beaminster. Although there was an agreement on inter-availability of tickets, connections were not guaranteed and confidence in the service plummeted when people were regularly left stranded in Beaminster having missed their connection. The latest changes in this route, introduced on 29 October, have merely exacerbated the situation, since in addition to the withdrawal of the peak commuter service from Bridport to Yeovil (07.30 hours outbound and 17.15 hours return) most journeys between Bridport and Yeovil require two changes of bus (in Beaminster and Crewkerne) and three changes of bus operator (First Wessex, Buses of Somerset and South West Coaches).

DCC hosted an Integrated Transport Review in Dorchester in February this year. The chairman (county councillor Derek Beer) emphasised that the key to a successful public transport network is an easy to understand timetable, reliability, and stability/ constancy. We wholeheartedly endorse his comments, and trust that this will be reflected in future decision making by the new Unitary Authority.

Meanwhile, our next meeting - open to any member of the public - is Thursday, November 22, in Bridport (6.30 pm in the W.I Hall).