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Labour MP Bill Esterson calls for Merseytravel and Arriva to 'pull out all the stops' to ensure Formby patients have access to Southport Hospital after 44 bus route changes

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson, Cllr Nina Killen and son Daniel, and Cllr Tim Hale on Kirklake Road, which is part of the 44 route which has been cut.

Formby's Labour MP Bill Esterson said he wants to see Merseytravel and Arriva "pull out all the stops" to ensure patients in Formby have access to Southport Hospital.

Until last Friday, the 44 bus service ran from Formby Library down Kirklake Road, St Luke's Church Road and Bushbys Lane, then on to Southport & District General Hospital and Crossens.

Despite the service being relied on by people here to get to and from Southport Hospital, Arriva say they cannot keep the timetable on the current route and while not enough people are using the service in Formby it is busy in Southport.

Therefore, they have taken the step of cutting the 44's route so it is now skipping Kirklake Road, St Luke's Church Road and Bushbys Lane and instead go straight down King's Road then on to Southport.

This is the second time the service has been reduced having previously been reduced from half-hourly to hourly.

After concerned residents contacted Bill Esterson and the Formby Labour Action Team, the MP contacted Merseytravel.

In a statement this week, Merseytravel chiefs said: "Service 44 is operated by Arriva on a commercial basis, however the section of route between Formby and Walnut Street in Southport is not well patronised by passengers and Arrivawere mindful to take that leg of the service off all together.

"Merseytravel is aware of the important link that this service provides for residents in Formby, particularly to Southport Hospital, and in view of that we took steps to ensure its continuation.

"Initially we tested the market with a bespoke tendered service running from Formby to Southport Hospital every hour to ascertain a cost for an operator to run such a service. This was compared to the offer from Arriva to continue one bus an hour on the 44 service to Formby. It was considered that the Arriva offer provided the best value to Mersey travel financially and offered the best provision to passengers as this gives the opportunity to travel beyond the hospital and onto Southport directly, without the need for interchange.

"Therefore Merseytravel presently pays Arriva what is called a deminimis payment to maintain the hourly service from Formby to Southport hospital.

"Since the introduction of this arrangement Arriva have reported that drivers are having difficulties maintaining the reliability and punctuality of the service, on the daytime route, and the only practical option open to them to rectify this is to reduce part of the Formby leg of the route.

"Faced with this situation Merseytravel has agreed to continue with the arrangement, at a reduced rate, rather than see the service withdrawn. The alternative would be to pay for a more expensive service, which we could not justify, that would not offer as many options to passengers.

"It is therefore Arriva's intention to revise the 44 route from July 19 so that during the daytime the route will terminate at Formby Station and then proceed down King's Road and Raven Meols Lane then as the present route, the evening and Sunday service is not affected by the change. Unfortunately this revision will mean that the 44 will no longer serve Formby Bridge, Kirklake Road, Bushbys Lane and Queen's Road however Merseytravel do financially support a series of routes in the Formby area one of which is the 163 that will continue to provide transport provision in that area and prevent the residents from being isolated."

But Bill Esterson said the latest service cut would leave many people along the affected part of the route stranded.

Bill said: "Very often, the people need to go to hospital can't drive, or don't have access to a car. A bus that goes directly to and from the hospital is therefore crucial. For many it is a lifeline.

"To cut the route, as has been suggested is neglecting a whole section of a community. it is not good enough.

"The other bus services are not integrated with the 44, so a passenger could wait for the best part of an hour to get from one leg of the journey to the other.

"I understand the very difficult financial situation which has been imposed on Merseytravel by the government but I have very real concerns that the changes simply won't work and I will be asking Merseytravel chairman Liam Robinson to see if anything can be done."

Bill said he, Formby Labour councillors Tim Hale and Nina Killen, have all been working on the issue.

Bill said: "Despite Arriva saying there aren't enough passengers on this bus to make it financially viable, there are enough people here in Formby affected by this to make me realise that it is a cut to far and what Arriva is saying is not good enough.

"We are currently working with Arriva and Merseytravel to look at what alternative changes can be made. Are there changes to the route earlier on the or later on that can be made to ensure that the bus can run on time? Are there other services that can be adjusted to fill in the gap?

"I want to see every avenue explored.

"The government has slashed the funding for public transport which has massive implications for services throughout the North West and indeed the country, but we cannot leave whole communities and individuals, particularly the injured, sick, elderly or vulnerable isolated in this way."


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