Leonard and I met at Cafe Barbera near Stoke d’ Abernon train station on a beautiful sunny October morning. Leonard, a retired governor of Esher High School, has lived in Cobham and Stoke d’ Abernon for over 60 years. He was telling me about the importance of having a bus that services Cobham and surrounding areas in a way no other transport service does. Leonard is a regular Chatterbus user and a passionate advocate of the service.
‘Chatterbus has been a huge improvement since it first hit the road in 2015. Before that we did not have any transport service between Cobham High Street and the train station or other essential services people need to access such as big shops or the Health Care Centre’ says Leonard.’
Chatterbus is a not-for-profit service managed by dedicated members of the charity’s board and local volunteers. Leonard is one of them. The bus service depends on support of generous sponsors and local bodies such as Surrey County Council, ticket sales and various volunteer-lead fundraising initiatives such as the upcoming Christmas raffle.
‘It would be a huge shame to lose the service if we were not able to find sufficient funding. There are people who use the regularly, especially commuters even though the patterns of commuting slightly shifted after the pandemic’ says Leonard and adds, ‘Saturday customers are people who use it regularly every week to go to Marks and Spencer’s or Tesco in Brooklands or to Leatherhead. Besides the actual bus service, it is also an occasion to have a chat with other community members. For somebody who lives on their own like me, it can often be the only time I speak to someone in person.’
Chatterbus is indeed very close to the needs of the community. Not only does it provide service to people who might be otherwise left without any means of transport, such as the elderly or people who cannot afford their own car or cannot drive (teenagers for example) but it also provides an option of alternative, more eco-friendly way to travel short distances (and it saves money on parking charges).
‘I still have a car but I am not so keen on driving anymore; plus, I am conscious of my carbon footprint and public transport is an efficient way to lower our individual transport emissions’ says Leonard.
‘Chatterbus also keeps me fit as I tend to combine the bus journey with walking. I usually take the bus one way and then walk back or vice versa.’ Leonard is fit for his age. He recently started using a walking stick just to help his overall balance but when it comes to negotiating the stairs to get in and out of the bus, Leonard gets on rather well and with confident independence.
‘The amazing bus drivers always ask if I am okay, just so I know that they are willing to assist in any way they can, and they always do when needed. I do my weekly shop at the big Sainsbury’s for which I use Chatterbus and the drives always go out of their way to help with a bagful of groceries or two. We are very fortunate to have such compassionate drivers.’
Leonard started using Chatterbus ever since it started operating with just one vehicle.
‘Now we have three buses, C1 and C3 for during the working week and C2 with its extended route to Brooklands and Leatherhead on Saturdays’.
Leonard uses the Live Tracker on Chatterbus website to track the buses in real time. ‘Once you figure out how to use the tracker, it is dead easy, you just must make sure you are looking at the right bus (C1, C2 or C3) depending on where you need to go and what day of the week it is. The buses are usually on time but in case of unexpectedly heavy traffic, the Tracker shows the exact whereabouts of each bus.’
There are also physical copies of the timetable available in every bus, all one needs to do is to ask one of the drivers for a copy.
‘We need to keep promoting Chatterbus in our community. It is a service for everyone! As a pensioner, I have a bus pass that allows me to use the service for free most of the time. There are concession passes for people who find themselves in challenging financial situations such as Food Bank users. We also issued concession passes for Ukrainian refugees who live in the area to make sure they can get around and feel independent.’
In other words, Chatterbus is not just an ordinary bus service, it is a vital transport provision for Cobham community that seeks to provide for diverse individual needs of residents.
Whether you are looking to reduce the use of your car like Leonard or find yourself in a situation in which you need support in the form of free transport to get you through challenging times, Chatterbus is here to cater for all those needs.
As our interview is ending, Leonard is getting ready to walk back home to make the best of the beautiful weather but he will use Chatterbus later in the day to travel from the Stoke end of Tilt Road to Church Street to attend a social movie night at St Andrew’s church.
Thank you for sharing your Chatterbus experience and for all you do to keep this vital service going Leonard!
By Katerina Lusk