MORE older people than ever are using the replacement for an axed transport lifeline.
The Age UK Shopper Bus, which ferried hundreds of elderly people between their homes and supermarkets every week, was cut at the end of last year.
It offered a vital link for of pensioners, providing a door-to-door service in Sunderland, Hetton, Houghton and Washington.
After Sunderland City Council, public transport operator Nexus and the Sunderland Primary Care Trust withdrew their funding, charity Age UK was unable to finance the bus alone.
But Nexus stepped in to keep the much-needed service on the road and has now seen a sharp rise in the number of people using the buses.
Tobyn Hughes, director of customer service for Nexus, said: “In the last eight months we have increased the total number of trips provided on shopper services in Sunderland by 60 per cent.
“There are now 290 people a week travelling on shopper buses we fund, compared to 180 at the end of last year.
“These trips are now provided on our behalf by a local company, Compass Community Transport.
“Despite the increase in trips there is still a small waiting list and we are looking at ways to address this.
“Nexus conducted a procurement process in line with our usual procedures covering the renewal of shopper and group travel services provided on our behalf.
“Through that we have been able to offer an increase in the number of shopper trips in Sunderland.”
Older people were left distraught after Age UK bosses announced the “devastating” news that the shopping bus service was coming to an end.
Speaking to the Echo at the time, a 95-year-old widow from Tunstall, said: “I’ve been using it since the beginning. It is the only place I go without my walker because these two drivers, Bob and Peter, practically carry me from my front door.
“I love it and so does everyone else. I carried on driving until I was 91 and that was the biggest life change of all.
Another regular user, from Millfield, said: “I’ve had two strokes and I need help getting about. I can’t really go out on my own. The service is brilliant and the lads who drive the bus are absolutely wonderful.
“I live on the third floor of sheltered accommodation and they carry my shopping all the way up for me.”