Isle of Wight volunteer bus drivers plan criticised

Wightbus bus The subsidised Wight Bus service was due to end in August

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A trade union has criticised a scheme allowing volunteers to drive buses on rural routes on the Isle of Wight.

The Wight Bus service had been due to end in August following cuts by the Conservative-led authority.

The new Heron Line, which has been set up with some council financial support, is expected to have a team of 60 volunteer drivers on nine routes.

An RMT union spokesman said there had been little consultation and called the scheme "very, very worrying".

Regional organiser Peter Skelly said: "Passengers feel a lot safer when they know there is a fully paid and resourced driver at the wheel. How would they feel if volunteers started driving trains?"

He said there had been insufficient consultation with the trade unions over issues such insurance cover in the event of an accident and where the revenue from the service would be going to.

He added: "Bus companies up and down the country will be watching this to see what they can get away with. The only solution to this kind of problem is a publicly owned, publicly funded national bus corporation."

Island bus firm Southern Vectis has provided eight vehicles, fuel, maintenance, insurance and training for volunteer drivers.

The council aimed to save £280,000 by stopping the Wight Bus services as part of its budget cuts.

Trainee drivers have had to be licensed, pass a medical and a Criminal Records Bureau check.

Volunteer Rex Goldsmith, 65, who is training to drive a 40ft (12m) coach, said: "It gives me something to do, I'm getting a lot of satisfaction and doing something for the community."

Isle of Wight Council said it found the RMT's comments "surprising and disappointing" as the scheme would improve the island's bus network.

Councillor Edward Giles, cabinet member for transport, said: "We have been innovative and successful in both maintaining local bus drivers' jobs and also protecting and enhancing local rural services."

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