Rural transport is “in a state of crisis”, with bus cuts and shrinking transport networks leaving communities cut off. This is the conclusion of a new report released this week by Campaign for Better Transport.
The Future of Rural Bus Services in the UK shows the impact of poor public transport on the health and wellbeing of communities and rural economies, and calls for urgent reform to ensure people living in rural areas remain connected to the national transport network.
The report points out that buses remain an important part of rural life. In England, for example, over a quarter of all bus journeys outside of London are in predominately rural areas or towns with rural hinterlands.
However, there has been a spiral of decline in rural public transport, which has been exacerbated by pressures on local government finances in recent years, resulting in reductions in financial support for bus services. Between 2011/12 and 2016/17, rural bus mileage fell by over 6%. During this period, patronage on supported bus services in non-metropolitan areas of England fell by more than 30% and in Wales by 44%.
“Rural public transport is in crisis,” commented Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport. “Bus cuts and shrinking transport networks are making it harder and harder for people to get to work or school, to visit friends and family, or access shops and services, as well as putting extra pressure on our congested roads.
“Things need to change. The Government must realise the importance of rural transport and do more to help communities and local authorities provide a public transport network that supports rural economies and improves the health and wellbeing of the people who live there.”
The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
- Long-term, ring-fenced central Government funding to support rural communities and local authorities to improve public transport;
- Better incentives for companies providing transport in rural areas to develop and improve services;
- Local authorities and private companies to work more in partnership;
- Use of new technologies, including apps and smart ticketing, to improve services;
- Take account of modern lifestyles and travel needs when planning transport networks and services;
- Employ a wider range of transport operators and types of services, including private buses and taxis; community transport; school and health service transport; and car share schemes.
“There is an opportunity to rethink the provision of rural public transport,” the report concludes. “However, this requires decision makers to recognise the importance of such transport and to establish the principle that all rural dwellers should have the opportunity of accessing reasonable public transport services.
“The acceptance of such a policy would imply the agreement to provide necessary long term and consistent funding to deliver services. With such support in place, it will be possible to take a fresh approach.”
About the Author
This post was written by Robert Jack. Robert is Managing Editor and Publisher of Passenger Transport. He has worked as a journalist, editor and publisher in the passenger transport sector for 18 years. He has played a key role in many transport-related conferences and events.