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Wheelchair-user 'isolated and low' due to transport access

Nikki with her assistance dog, Bella Credit: ITV Meridian

A wheelchair-user from Hampshire has told ITV News Meridian that the lack of transport options available on her housing estate has left her feeling isolated and low.

Nikki Stowe lives on the modern St Mary's Park estate in Hartley Wintney, in an adapted council house which she was allocated three years ago.

The estate does not have a public bus stop on it, and parts of the routes to nearby bus stops do not have pavements.

The Hartley Wintney Community Bus

There is a community bus service which comes to the estate, but Nikki says it is so restrictive for wheelchair users, it makes her feel like a second-class citizen.

She says she has approached a number of local and county councillors, but feels they are not really listening to her concerns.

They have suggested taxis, but two of the listed companies don't cover this area, two only have very limited availability, and one never got back to me. They have also suggested the community minibus, but wheelchair users cannot use the same timetable as everybody else - instead we can pre-book to do a very limited number of journeys, at specific times, and only for two hours.

It's not fair that I should have to live my life around such a restrictive schedule, just because I'm disabled. I feel very isolated and I just want the same freedoms and opportunities as everybody else.

– Nikki Stowe
Nikki says no one has suggested any viable or reasonable transport options

Hampshire County Council said in a statement it was sorry to hear that Nikki was struggling to arrange suitable transport for herself.

We have corresponded about the potential ‘wheelchair friendly’ options available in the Hartley Wintney area – either through private hire, such as local taxis, or through the local community bus operated by Hartley Wintney Parish Council. The latter have confirmed to us that they can provide a door to door pick up/drop off service to Fleet town centre twice a week, one trip a week to a local large supermarket, plus one trip a month to Camberley and one to Basingstoke. Local residents can register to receive half fare.

– Cllr Rob Humby, Hampshire County Council

It added that with the exception of Hart District Council, it works with district and borough councils across Hampshire to jointly fund local community transport for the elderly and people with disabilities via a Dial-a Ride service. It said without match-funding from Hart District Council, a Dial-a-Ride in that area is not available.

Hart District Council responded by saying that it supports Hampshire County Council in its endeavours to meet its obligations as local public transport authority.

The District Council has over the last few years secured over £3.5m of contributions to support Hampshire in delivering public transport opportunities across Hart, but we, like all communities, will always find it hard to further subsidise the County Council’s recent decisions to withdraw significant funding for public transport in Hart. In this regard we are disappointed that it is not recognised that Hart residents make a greater contribution to fund Hampshire County Council than they receive back in services.

– Cllr Alan Oliver, Hart District Council

For the past few years, the Buses in Fleet group has been campaigning against funding cuts to bus services, while trying to raise awareness of how cuts can impact vulnerable members of the community.

Buses in Fleet says the bus route to the hospital can take over two hours from some parts of Fleet

Tracy Grimshaw from Buses in Fleet said: "Nikki is not alone in feeling isolated. Elderly people or those with disabilities want to be able to live spontaneously and be able to go the doctors, the shops, or to see their friends when they choose.

Many rely on public buses to do that and when they can't, they can become very lonely. And we know that long-term loneliness can have an impact on health.

Nikki has written to her MP, Ranil JayawardenaI, who said he is aware of her case and has raised it with both Hart District Council and Hampshire County Council to ensure that her concerns are dealt with by the right people.

The government's Inclusive Transport Strategy says it aims to create a transport system offering equal access for disabled people by 2030.

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