• The Lifeline of Community Buses

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    • The Lifeline of Community Buses
    • by Suzanne Lau
      Policy Executive

    Think back to the last time you sat on a bus. Were you heading to work? To meet a friend? Attend a medical appointment? Perhaps your son or daughter got on one just this morning to head off to school. Wherever you live in the UK, bus transport is an integral part of how people get around.

    Now, imagine that the service you rely on was no longer available. How much further must you walk laden with shopping bags to get to the next stop? How much more for a taxi or train fare to get you to the same destination? It might be the case that you’ll have to miss that check-up or physiotherapy session if you can’t get your bus, or you might have to cancel going out with your friends.

    This is the reality for tens of thousands of people across the UK who rely on bus services, without which they would be left stranded at home, unable to access vital services, see friends and family or get to work. Unfortunately, the provision of bus services, especially in rural areas, has been falling. According to the Campaign for Better Transport, over 3,000 bus services have been reduced, altered or withdrawn in England and Wales since 2010, with over 300 in the last year alone. For many people who rely on bus services every day, they’ve been disappearing.

    That’s where community transport comes in. One key service that many community transport operators provide are community bus services which are run in England, Scotland and Wales using section 22 permits. Just like any other public bus service, community bus services have their routes and timetables registered with the traffic commissioner and are available to members of the general public. Unlike commercial bus operators, however, community transport providers who run a community bus route on a section 22 permit never do so for profit. This means they can meet a much greater variety of needs than commercial bus companies, especially for vulnerable and isolated people and communities where bus services have been cut due to not being profitable.

    During Catch the Bus Week, CTA shared the stories of a number of our members who provide community bus services which have become a lifeline to the people left behind by a lack of available public transport.  You can read their stories here.

    These stories reinforce the fact that people across the country rely on community bus services run by community transport, and that these services help a wide range of people in a wide range of ways. Many services are a lifeline to older people who wouldn’t be able to leave their house without community transport, let alone do their shopping, attend hospital or doctors appointments or meet up with friends and family. For them, community bus routes run by community transport schemes keep them from being lonely and isolated.

    Community bus services also play a key role in helping people get to work and school. Ilfracombe and District Community Transport, for example, worked in partnership with Barnstable Job Centre to run a 7-night-a-week bus service to support employees working at hotels, pubs and holiday camps get to and from work, creating employment opportunities and boosting the local economy. Similarly, Transport for Tongue, based in the Scottish Highlands, operate a daily return journey for students living in Melness, Tongue and Skerray to attend the North Highland College. Before this service began, the only public bus would arrive one hour before the start of the college day, and would return mid-afternoon, before the end of class. Because of Transport for Tongue’s community bus service, students and adults have been able to take advantage of educational opportunities many couldn’t have accessed otherwise.

    These community bus services don’t compete with commercial bus services; many step in where commercial bus services have been withdrawn and are often the only form of transport for their users. “Scores of people now depend on our service to get them out to critical services,” said Maggie Lawson of Badenoch and Strathspey Community Transport, “they often state that they just don’t know what they would do if the bus was to cease.” Jill Baylis from Gorran and District Community Bus had a similar story: “all of our passengers tell us that they just do not know what they would do without us. We are their lifeline to visit other places and to do their weekly shop. Many who live on their own have now made firm friends with other passengers and this has given them a whole new social life!”

    In the face of threats to community bus services due to the Department for Transport’s proposed reforms to driver licencing, it’s more important than ever to understand the enormous impact they have on communities across the UK, and the social and economic value they bring.  As one CTA member ended their story, “to our passengers, complicated legislation doesn’t matter. They just want someone to help them maintain their independence, giving them a normal life.”


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