Welcome to my day: 20 February 2023 – a transport of delight and a birthday greeting…

For those of you who don’t have the joy of living in the countryside, you will be aware of the existence of large boxes on wheels which pass up and down roads near you, stopping regularly to pick up and drop off complete strangers. Buses are relatively rare in my neck of the woods, however, so journeys need to be planned more thoroughly.

And that’s how I spent my Saturday, using the temporary £2 fare to travel from Bury St Edmunds to Lincoln, using five buses and travelling via Thetford, Kings Lynn, Spalding and Skegness. And yes, it took more than nine hours, but it did give me time to think and study the flatlands of the area around the Wash.

And I’m reminded of the impact that poor transport links have on people. Whilst we are all encouraged to do more online, for those people without decent broadband access, or without access to technology, or lacking in confidence, getting to and from places is vital. There are also those things that must be done in person and, increasingly, as rural transport links wither on the vine, it gets harder and more expensive to do so.

My own village hasn’t had a scheduled bus service for more than a decade (and that ran on market day only, as a solitary return service) which makes sense given the lack of potential passengers. But, increasingly, villages are being added to with new estates as the very bus services which were used to justify them are being removed, meaning that new residents must drive to reach services.

I’m of the view that Liberal Democrats should be campaigning to retain the £2 fare cap as a permanent measure and, rather than insisting on scheduled bus services everywhere, look to demand responsive transport to fill the gaps to smaller communities, whereby allowing councils to gauge demand and support services more selectively. On core rural routes, the £2 fare cap will encourage ridership and potentially allow reallocation of financial support to new routes.

It looks as though the Northern Ireland talks are now the hostage of the DUP and a minority of Tory Europhobes. In other words, the two groups with nothing positive to say are doing their utmost to wreck hopes of progress. A word of advice to Rishi – if you want to be both popular and right, ignore them. And, if you really believe in making this country a better place, you’ll listen to their concerns (they might be genuine and worth taking into account) but not let them dictate terms.

And finally, I really ought to take a moment to wish a happy 80th birthday to (Lord) Tom McNally, our former Justice Minister and, more importantly in my eyes, our former Leader in the Lords. After a lifetime on the frontline of British politics, as an advisor to Jim Callaghan, then head of his political office, as MP for Stockport South and an early mover to the SDP before going to the Lords in 1995, he’s still as feisty as ever, taking opportunities to courteously eviscerate hapless Government ministers who certainly deserve what’s coming to them. Happy birthday, Tom, and many more of them, I hope!

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9 Comments

  • >And I’m reminded of the impact that poor transport links have on people. Whilst we are all encouraged to do more online, for those people without decent broadband access, …. There are also those things that must be done in person and, increasingly, as rural transport links wither on the vine, it gets harder and more expensive to do so.

    I personally think ‘good’ transport links are part of the working from home (WFH) package, moving forward into our immediate low carbon future. Yes I do lots online, however, my village suffers from the one bus in the morning and one return bus in the evening. Hence whilst I extensively WFH, I still have to maintain the car…

    In addition to retaining the flat fare, it would be worth campaigning for the return of route setting and franchising powers to local government.
    Drivers of “demand responsive transport” would seem to be an opportunity for the 50~70 age group.

  • Laurence Cox 20th Feb '23 - 12:50pm

    We could do what they do in other countries and re-introduce postbuses. https://en.wikipedia.org//wiki/Postbus

    “After March 2016 only one postbus remained in the United Kingdom, route 134 from Tongue to Lairg in the Scottish Highlands[13] and this last ran on 19 August 2017.[14]”

  • Was this a 9-hour round trip, or did it take 9 hours to reach Lincoln and then you came back by train? This is a genuine enquiry: I am tempted to do something similar myself in the north-west but find it difficult to estimate what might be possible.

  • Robert Harrison 21st Feb '23 - 7:35am

    The local council in which I live (just outside of Munich, Germany) now has a series of on-demand buses which run through the night on set routes. You need to phone a telephone number an hour before the scheduled departure time and the “bus” will pick you up from the stop and take you to the next stop. The “bus” is often a taxi or people carrier and the planning software will calculate demand and send two or more taxis with different destinations.

    It works reasonably well around the local villages, and particular on the night services.

    We do have “regular” buses on the routes on weekdays.

  • Jack Nicholls 22nd Feb '23 - 7:05am

    As a native and former resident of the area, where a genteel but unassailable conservatism permeated pretty consistently, it’s lovely to know a paragon of liberal values sailed through Spalding.

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