Station Taxis has operated the TB20 and TB21 service from Houghton Helath Centre serving Dairy Lane Estate and Fence Houses on behalf of transport executive Nexus for 15 years.
Now the firm has been told its contract is being axed – just weeks after it was renewed – and the minibus service will be replaced by a new one using a full-size bus.
But residents fear the new vehicle will be too large to get round their estates and Nexus wants to use falling passenger numbers as an excuse to wield the axe.
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Edith Corney, 69, from Dunelm Drive in Dairy Lane, said she could see no other explanation for the decision: “They will put a bigger bus on and then in six months’ time, they will say it is not paying its way – that’s what they did last time,” she said.
"That bigger bus won’t be able to get into the health centre, and it won’t be able to get round some of the streets. I can’t see the use of it at all.
"It is a false economy unless it is because they want to pull the bus.
"There are people down here in their 90s who rely on it.”
Station Taxis boss Trevor Hines said he was baffled by the move: “I don’t know what the rationale is behind it – it is very strange.”
The firm had operated the route without problems for years, he said: “It came about because a Go North East route was removed. There was a bit of a hue and cry from residents and that’s how we came on board.
“The local councillors got involved and said people were going to be stranded – Nexus were forced into a providing some alternative and they decided to support a taxi bus service.
“It has been tweaked over the years but it has basically been the same for 15 years.”
The firm was just weeks into the new contract when it was terminated: “We had to reapply for the contract in March and we were confirmed - the new contract started on May 15, and now we have been told they are going to pull the plug on it and replace it with a bus.
“We, as a company, had no intention to pull out but Nexus have decided to replace it.”
He could not see any economic argument for a bigger vehicle: "We have never turned anybody away but we are never full,” he said.
"We use seven or eight-seater taxis and they are never full. I could understand it if we were having to turn people away.”
A Nexus spokesperson said the new vehicle would not have any impact on viability of the service: “The Houghton taxi bus services TB20 and TB21 are being replaced with a conventional sized bus to better meet customer needs. This will come into effect from July 24.
"The bus will have vastly improved accessibility but will still comfortably be able to serve the streets which it operates on, providing a vital transport link in the community to local shops and health services.”