THERE are fears disabled people could be left isolated with changes to door-to-door passenger services considered by Clackmannanshire Council.

Current provider the Order of Malta Dial-a-Journey Trust feels major changes could be coming to the service in Clacks, originally designed to support those who are unable to use conventional public transport for travel.

Dial-a-Journey chief executive Duncan Hearsum raised concerns over plans to change to a "kerb-to-kerb" arrangement, after the local authority invited offers to provide the service in a tender.

He fears it could leave people isolated and also highlighted that current proposals would see a merger of the C2 service with the door-to-door offering, currently provided by the trust.

Duncan said: "At present, our drivers go the their door and give them assistance to come out their houses and make their way to the bus.

"At the other end of the journey, which is probably more important, they'll take them right out the bus and take them right into their destination to make sure they are safe before they left.

"Under the new model, that's not going to happen."

He explained that plans to establish what the council said would be a "multi use vehicle" (MUV) service would see C2 passengers compete with door-to-door service users.

Dial-a-Journey recently wrote to its members, highlighting that no consultation with service users by the council has taken place so far.

The local authority explained the process is at an early stage and consultation will be taking place once the tender exercise is over to see if any providers are interested in running the new kind of service.

A spokesperson confirmed that an equality impact assessment will be carried out, before elected members consider the issue at a meeting on August 10.

There are around 230 people who are registered with the service and more than half of them have used it in the last year.

Duncan was clear he is challenging the new model being proposed, which came as a surprise from tender documents, on behalf of service users who will be affected.

People who would be affected include Lorraine Thomson and her daughter Emma, who lives with multiple disabilities including cerebral palsy and is due to turn 16 soon.

Lorraine, from Alva, told the Advertiser: "It would just completely isolate her.

"She's 16 [this week] so she's got another two years of education but after that we would be relying on Dial-a-Journey completely for anything as she goes onto in adult services.

"Still, just now it affects us, we don't have any other way of transporting Emma apart from using patient transport from the NHS."

Concerns have also been raised over plans to limit destinations outwith Clackmannanshire with a specific and limited list.

Duncan spoke of one Sauchie service user, who visits the Riding for the Disabled Association in Carronshore and may not be able to travel there any more.

"Under the list of destinations we've got, it doesn't look as though Carronshore is served," he said.

"We could go to Falkirk town centre, or the hospital in Larbert or Stirling town centre but the council haven't been clear about where exactly they can go, it's just a broad indication."

A spokesperson for Clackmannanshire Council explained the local authority re-tendered for supported bus routes C1 and C2 in March but only the former was awarded due to increases in prices.

A short-term solution for the C2/C2A service was put in place to allow time to find an alternative.

The council spokesperson continued: "The current thinking is to establish a multi use vehicle (MUV) service which would use a fully accessible small bus to provide demand responsive transport services to communities currently without access to public transport.

"This would incorporate the needs of disabled people using the current door-to-door service operated by [Dial-a-Journey].

"It would also enable people with National Entitlement cards to travel for free."

If the model is found feasible, detailed engagement will begin.

The local authority said Dial-a-Journey holds the client details and it is unable to consult without them.

However, Dial-a-Journey said it is yet to be approached for the details.

Cllr Janine Rennie, leader of the Labour Group, last week met with Dial-a-Journey and told the Advertiser there had been "no prior knowledge about the tender process".

She raised a number of "significant concerns" and said: "The tender was issued without prior consultation with the wider community of Clackmannanshire.

"An equality impact assessment should have been carried out prior to issue of the tender.

"Elected members should have had prior knowledge to enable us to reassure our constituents who will be understandably concerned.

"However, it should be noted it was correct for them to be informed by the charity due to the timescales and the longstanding relationships."

She went on to say Dial-a-Journey is an "integral part of the third sector and community", having operated for many years and offering "much more than transport".

Cllr Rennie added: "There are many complex concerns supported, in addition to mobility.

"Workers are experienced at identifying needs and responding to them.

"The added value from a third sector provider in terms of relationship building and empathy cannot be underestimated."

She went on to say the process should be postponed to enable full consultation and that she would be happy to support constituents in engaging with the council.

The council spokesperson added: "It is understandable that some people may be anxious about any potential changes to transport arrangements and we would encourage them to contact the council to set out their concerns."