There have been calls for the government to take action and improve transport in rural areas by the Campaign for Better Transport.
Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport said:
“Public transport cuts can have a devastating impact on rural areas. If you don’t have access to a car, the chances are you’re reliant on buses to get you to school, to hospital, to friends or to the shops. If that bus service disappears it can leave whole villages completely isolated. The Government must use the Bus Services Bill to give rural local authorities the powers and funding to stop communities getting cut off.”
The Government’s new Bus Services Bill is currently in the House of Lords [http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/busservices.html] and will soon be introduced in the House of Commons. The Bill contains welcome measures to help improve buses in towns and cities, but little to help rural areas where services have been hit hard by local authority funding cuts.
To help address this, Campaign for Better Transport is calling for a raft of measures to be included in the Bill to help get rural public transport on a proper long term footing. This includes:
Local public transport assessments – Local authorities should be required to carry out assessments of need for public transport in their areas. Many local authorities do not currently do this, meaning cuts to bus services can be considered in isolation with the result that whole communities risk being cut off. A proper assessment of bus services and other public transport would allow better strategic planning that join public transport services up and get beyond short-term considerations like subsidy per passenger.
Roll out Total Transport to all local authorities – Schools, hospitals, local authorities and various other organisations invest in local public transport, but they rarely talk to each or plan services together, meaning scarce financial resources are not used to the best effect. Total Transport is a new approach which works by combining budgets and planning to give better more efficient services. Government trials of Total Transport have been ongoing since 2015 and should now be widened so all local authorities can get the best out of limited resources.
Improved funding – The Bus Services Bill has to come with financial support as well as new powers. Existing grants such as the Bus Service Operators’ Grant should be retained at their existing level while addition money should be made available to support local public transport assessments and total transport. Investing in buses is excellent value and socially progressive. Those most likely to rely on public transport are older people, low income groups, disabled people and young people. Supporting these groups helps facilitate access to education, to jobs and services, supports independent living and many other benefits. Such investment should be delivered through a new Bus and Coach Investment Strategy.
Asset of Community Value – Currently, communities can identify buildings or land that they believe are important to them, and require local authorities to protect them from loss or change of use. This power should widened through the Bill to include services, meaning public transport which is essential in connecting communities can also be protected.