Opinion: the importance of the rural bus

I recently visited Ivy in Ashmore Green. A woman in her eighties, Ivy is still bright and lively. When I met her, she had recently given up driving and was still reeling from discovering that her local bus service, the 76, that connects Ashmore Green to the rest of the world, runs once a week.

Now, all credit to Jacs Minicoaches for running this service, but a bus that runs just once a week is not something around which you can build a life. A thriving community depends on more than just driving-age adults.

  • How are youngsters supposed to get to school or take part in after-school sports clubs, revision sessions, dance, drama and music, if buses are cut?
  • How are young people who can’t afford driving lessons or insurance supposed to get to work?
  • How are our older constituents, no longer confident with driving but still keen to visit friends, do their shopping and generally get involved in our local communities supposed to manage without buses?

A national survey about bus services by Passenger Focus highlighted the how those living in countryside villages like East Ilsley and Inkpen as well as towns like Hungerford and Thatcham, regard better public transport as lifeline. If bus services were not available around half the people who responded to the survey say they would have been unable to make their journey. One third of respondents said the option to drive or get a lift was either impossible or very inconvenient. Not everyone has a Mum or Dad, or son or daughter standing by with a car to hand.

Rural pubs and shops benefit from good local bus services, but protecting rural transport is about more than economics. Keeping people connected builds community, and community builds health and happiness.

The government has introduced a scheme where Local Authorities can apply to become Better Bus Areas, and it comes with funding attached. BBA grants are designed to provide an effective way of growing local bus markets, and so ensuring the survival of bus services. The deadline to apply to become a Better Bus Area is 21st June 2013.

How are people in our rural towns and villages meant to manage without public transport? Let’s cherish the services we have and help them extend and expand.

Judith Bunting is the prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Newbury and West Berkshire. To stay in touch with Judith’s news, views and WB’s campaigns, check her Facebook page or follow her and the team on Twitter (see above).

* Judith Bunting was a Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for South-East England from 2019 to 2020. She was our PPC for Newbury in 2015 and 2017. Judith is a scientist and works as a television producer.

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  • Public transport isn’t – and mustn’t become – the privilege of urban elites.

    Public transport must be a viable and economic alternative for everyone in society.

    But it’s not just about the rural economy, it’s about cultivating healthy communities – many outlying areas suffer greater levels of inequality because those in need don’t have the same access to services, and problems are masked by often higher general affluence than neighbouring areas, especially in the south on England. Social exclusion is that much more important where social networks are stretched further.

    LibDems have won on Post Offices, we’re winning on pubs, now we need to take a similar approach to win on country schools and the village bus!

    Funding for rural bus lines is great, but bus company managers are rarely enlightened when it comes to timetabling and routes. Many potential bus users are alienated by failure the failure of managers to consult and communicate properly, and this isn’t helped by their uncompetitive pricing strategies.

    Buses monopolise rural ‘public’ transport, and this sector would benefit massively were this market opened up to greater choice.

    So we should also do more to discourage dependence on ‘private’ cars by better harnessing other means of transportation, such as informal village carpooling. Schools, for example, can easily identify and organise more lifts for neighbouring families. This can be important for building awareness of a ‘mutual’ interest in transport issues.

    Cycling in the countryside should also be seen as a more realistic ‘independent’ commuting option which is cheaper, healthier, and reduces both traffic congestion and pollution. Distances are commonly very manageable, yet the back lanes are rarely designed to take cycle safety into account and only the brave or foolhardy are prepared to get in the saddle whether to go to work or otherwise.

    So, it can’t be just a question of either/or private/public transport in the country, but also of a matter of seriously developing mutual, independent and other intermediate models of rural transport.

  • Ed Shepherd 8th Apr '13 - 7:09am

    One thing that might help people who feel isolated is to re-open all the Post Offices that were closed a few years ago. Subsidise the Post Offices as ncessary. They are a service to people and should not have to make a profit in order to be considered necessary. Open all the libraries that have closed, too. Subsidise the libraries if necessary.

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