State of Rural Services 2016: Local Buses and Community Transport
by James Coe
Policy and Public Affairs Executive
Rural England CIC has released a report on the state of rural bus services in England. In our latest blog we look at the findings of the report and the implications for community transport operators.
It will come as little surprise to community transport operators that residents of rural areas; travel further by car, spend more time travelling, and are more likely to own a car, than residents of urban areas.
State of Rural Services 2016: Local Buses and Community Transport, looks at the state of rural transport and community transport in rural areas through drawing together a wide range of data and reports. As well as the nature of journey being taken in rural areas the report also highlights the economic profile of journeys being made.
Interestingly, the report states that more buses now run on a commercial basis and fewer receive local authority support than in previous years. This trend is something CTA raised at this year’s Roadshow where we suggested that finding new income streams would be vital to ensuring the long term viability of community transport schemes.
The report goes on to demonstrate that there is a ‘growing expectation of community or voluntary effort and the rapid growth of online services.’ This corresponds to internal research carried out by CTA which found that community transport operators are being frequently asked to undertake more services without a corresponding increase in local authority support. A situation where there is an increase in demand but a decrease in support is clearly unsustainable in the long term.
Crucially, whilst the report highlights that rural settlement residents make just 2% of their journeys by local bus services, a figure that rises to 3% for rural town residents, we would suggest that these journeys are vital for those who due to their income, rurality or disability are unable to access other forms of transport.
From our own research we know that those who depend on community transport would often otherwise be unable to see their loved ones, get to work, or get out to social occasions. The report states that a ‘fairly high proportion of older people in rural areas fail to apply for concessionary travel because of the paucity of bus services on which to use it,’ we would also suggest that integrated ticket systems which include community transport, would help improve take up of concessionary travel passes.
The CTA is about inclusive and accessible transport and this report is another voice in the debate on how we ensure equity of services across England. As the report highlights communal travel is vital despite its lower uptake in rural areas. We hope we can begin to have more conversations on imaginative commissioning that integrates community transport, demand responsive transport, and other non-mainstream travel options into the mainstream travel network. This will ensure we can increase patronage and secure the sustainability of these services for future generations.
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