Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Death Of The Rural Bus. Few People Care

A week ago, I read an article by Geoffrey Lean in the Daily Telegraph entitled: 'Will the country bus come to a grinding halt? It followed another article in the Financial Times last year about more or less the same thing.


It was an interesting article with many valid points about Beeching style cuts (20% in the last year), rural passengers being stranded, jobseekers will find it harder to access work, less shopping trips, big hit to the rural economy, local people being unable to get to hospital etc etc.

He may well be right. But he just scratches the surface. A). It is now 26 years since the de-regulation of the bus industry combined with the British love of independence, choice and a motor car. B). There aren't that many people living in rural areas and successive governments gamble that the level of protest will be small and manageable. You won't therefore see 300,000 Countryside Alliance supporters marching through London in an attempt to save there local bus.

Why not?

Because attitudes, needs, desires and expectations of the British public have changed so greatly in the last 20 years. The bus industry hasn't matched them. Buses are old, dowdy and unexciting in rural areas. It seems that it has become the graveyard for ex-city buses. I look at the local buses around our area and they seem to vary from 7-years-old to 15+.

You would think if you wanted to attract people away from their cars, then buses would be cheap, spotlessly clean, wi-fi, given special routes to avoid traffic to all places and above all, offer a pleasant experience.

Instead travelling on a cattle wagon is nearly equal to the local bone-rattler.

So why should people care? Oh the odd one will. There are some whose lives depend on buses. The councils have been responsible for losing routes because several school buses, which doubled as passenger services cannot have any adults on board anymore, as a result of Child Protection and safeguarding Children. There used to be a Post Bus too, but in many areas this seems to have disappeared.

Yet with the lack of services the complaints have been minimal. The general public, in the main, don't like buses. They want their cars. They want to go whenever they please. Even though it costs far more. No Government is going to tax the motorist off the road. That would be political suicide. They will nudge and connect with the feelgood factor as they play with electric and more green options. But they won't grasp the nettle that if you want an all singing all dancing transport network, we all have to pay for it. Joe public will not delve into his pocket for buses.

So we have a muddled together compromise of a system which just gets by. This is Britain. No one will complain. It'll do. Councils have spyed a cheap way to cutcosts, taking expensive rural contracts off the bus companies, giving them to charities, who they fund which means the council in effect become a bus company by proxy. These charities cut the services to the bone, but still run one service a day, which ticks the right box.

God forbid the Community Bus, which central government is advoctating. Look at the communities track record in wasting money in grand village hall and other schemes. Heavens above, if the community are allowed to run a bus. The last community bus in my neighbourhood was used by the local youths to go to a pop concert several hundred miles away. It had only been going for ten minutes, when it was pulled into a lay-by and surrounded by a large amount of police, who were acting on a tip off. A large number of drugs were recovered. the bus never made it to the concert.

A Dial N' Go bus was also run. It never went anywhere because there was no mobile phone reception so nobody could dial the driver. After an initial row, I used to see the bus parked in a field on top of a hill, with the driver asleep at the wheel. Though there was now reception, still nobody dialled.


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