A community bus service acting as a lifeline for isolated elderly and disabled people has been forced to close because of insurance problems.
Insurance ran out for the Hurst and Hassocks Community bus last Thursday after insurer, QBE, declined to renew its cover.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Margaret Ford, who chairs Hassocks Amenity Association.
“Twenty years service by local people for local people has come to an end through the intransigence of an insurance company.”
The bus is driven by a team of volunteers on circular routes between Hassocks, Keymer, Hurstpierpoint and Pyecombe.
Peter Gibbons, who serves on the committee that runs the service, said: “We’ve had two brokers searching for alternative insurance cover and they’ve drawn a blank.”
Assessing why he thought the problem had arisen, he said: “We made a claim in 2011 when a vehicle went through a red light in Horsham and hit our vehicle.
“Their insurers admitted liability but the amount paid to repair our vehicle, about £5,000, remains in dispute.”
Simon Strange who co-ordinates the bus service, said: “There have been a few other incidents.
“There was a minor incident in December, 2012 when a driver jumped out of his van and grazed his arm on our wing mirror.
“The police concluded it wasn’t our fault but the insurance company marked it as a potential claim.
“We do feel we’ve been unfairly treated.
“Elderly people rely on us and it’s a great pity to let them down.
“I don’t hold out any great hope of getting new insurance.
“We paid out £1,300 last year and there’s a limit to how much we can afford.”
Hassocks resident, John Halfacre, who uses the service regularly, said: “My mother and I have sight problems and because we have a disability, we travel on the bus for free.
“I visit my father’s grave at Clayton and I go over to Rushfields garden centre.
“If I want to take my guide dog down to the vets, I take him on the bus.
“We are picked up from our home in Damian Way and dropped off on a set route.
“ It’s a lifeline because without it I would have to order a taxi, which costs money.
“The bus provides a service to the villages and library runs for the elderly.”
The Middy contacted insurer QBE on behalf of the committee running the bus service and explained the distressing impact the sudden withdrawal of the service had had.
However, a spokesman told us: “We are sorry that this situation has caused upset to the users of the Hurst and Hassocks Community Bus.
“For confidentiality reasons, we cannot disclose specific client details but decisions like these are not taken lightly and are not based on single incidents alone.
“We first informed the broker for Hurst and Hassocks Community Bus on July 9 that we would not be renewing their policy with us and regret that the broker has been unable to place this insurance elsewhere.”
The committee was still trying to track down an alternative insurer. Committee members are grateful for the press attention and overwhelming public support.