Finsbury and Islington buses for elderly face axe

A BUS service that is a vital link to the outside world for many elderly people is almost certain to be axed – as Islington Council and Transport for London argue over its funding.

The PlusBus, which snakes around Finsbury and Islington on many roads not served by other bus routes, is a lifelife for many residents. But regular riders were this week shocked by the news that the service will almost certainly be halted in September, when its funding runs out.

Maureen Prince, 68, of Essex Road, Islington, said: “The PlusBus is crucial to people’s lives. There are lots of people who would just be sitting in doors all day if they could not get it. It’s harder to get on and off normal buses, you have to stand, and they’re crowded. I would be devastated if they take it away.”

The service is highly convenient for older people who can flag it down anywhere, and has drivers who help them on and off.

Lillian Brooks, 85, of Central Street, Finsbury, uses the bus to get to the Peel Centre, in Percy Circus, King’s Cross. She said: “There are a lot of people like me who rely on it. It would stop me getting to the centre as often if it disappeared. There are lots of people who would not be able to come here at all.”

The council says it cannot afford to continue paying for the service, and has called on TfL to step in to pick up the tab – but it has refused.

Councillor Paul Smith, Islington Council’s executive member for environment, said: “We were bitterly disappointed that last year TfL said that it would not fund PlusBus. Before Christmas we wrote to London Mayor Boris Johnson pleading with him to intervene with TfL to get it sorted out.”

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While the outlook is bleak, the council said it is still searching for a funding solution.

John Hayes, day centre manager at the Peel Centre, said the fact more than 50 people attended a talk about the PlusBus at the centre a few months ago showed how important it is. He added: “For some people, riding the PlusBus is the only time they get out. It helps reduce their isolation.

“A lot of the elderly people find it an invaluable link to the centre, as well as to Sainsbury’s in Islington and other parts of the borough.”

Councillor Ursula Woolley, adult social services spokeswoman for Islington Council’s Liberal Democrat opposition group, said: “PlusBus provides a lifeline to some of Islington’s most vulnerable residents. Islington’s elderly and disabled deserve better.”

A TfL spokeswoman said: “TfL awarded �2.5million to Islington for 2011/12 for a range of local transport projects, but did not support the borough’s request for �140,000 to subsidise the operation of the PlusBus, because it was not considered to represent value for money.”