The rural population of Suffolk is increasingly dividing into the haves and have-nots: those WITH transport – and those without any.
With the imminent closure of Anglian Buses 164 and 165 services, and following the diminution of the 63 Framlingham service, I sent a litany of local travellers’ concerns to our MP Therese Coffey together with a letter asking her to use her influence as our local MP to do four things:
- to try and change some of the decisions to reduce bus services at a local level – specifically by asking Go Ahead (new owners of Anglian Buses) if they could reconsider their decision to cut.
I pointed out that as the 164 bus was an additional service that has only been around for 6 months, I feel it likely most of the travelling public might be satisfied with the restoration of the 165;
- to use her voice to alter – at national level – the ridiculous ethos of so-called competition which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service in the countryside.
In the past County Councils ran bus services on the basis that popular routes could subsidise essential routes with smaller passenger numbers. I have sympathy with Councils that see no reason to subsidise only loss-making services. The loss of the 165 shows us on what a tightrope the services run. Yet rural services are not a frivolous luxury – they can make the difference between productive employment and training and expensive enforced idleness;
- to press the government to address the situation of local transport in the forthcoming spending review holistically, by recognising the additional expense in social care and welfare payments that will occur if public transport is not supported.
I asked her to press them to support it at all costs because public transport is an essential part of supporting the future welfare of the country – particularly in rural areas;
- to press the government to look at the frankly unfair differentials in per capita spending on public transport across the country.
Each Londoner gets about three times as much spent on them as each person in Suffolk despite the huge economies of scale London offers – and London buses aren’t deregulated. Why should the rural population be worth any less?
I wrote this letter because I’ve been contacted by a so many people living along the path of the soon-to-be-cancelled Anglian bus routes 164 and 165 (164 Saxmundham -Wickham Market-Woodbridge – Ipswich ending at Railway Station. 165:Aldeburgh, Leiston, Rendlesham, Woodbridge, Ipswich ending at Railways station). I am known to be particularly concerned about the public transport situation in Suffolk but I am assuming that Dr Coffey and various relevant council colleagues will have also been approached.
These two services are greatly loved and regularly used by many different local people (including myself). They are being cancelled because they are not profit-making. Indeed, how can they be when First bus company has been scheduling similar but by no means identical 64/65 services to run in direct competition? This has been a no-win situation as bus companies and travellers have all lost out.
At the same time the First 63 service from Ipswich to Framlingham has been cut back so as to provide a 3-4 bus service only Monday to Friday (no holidays). For the rest of the time , Framlingham and its famous castle is as cut off from Woodbridge and tourism as if it were in Ulan Bataar – a fantastical situation for ‘the greenest county’ to countenance.
Basically this means that the five major bus services that up till May 2013 ran through Woodbridge – the second largest town in Dr Coffey’s constituency – have been halved at a stroke.
The loss of these buses will have a dreadful impact on bus users all the way down Suffolk Coastal from Leiston to Woodbridge. Research from the Suffolk Foundation a year or two back has told us that 1 in 5 families in Suffolk don’t have a car. The County council response to this over the years has been to replace scheduled services with so-called Demand Responsive Transport. This is a misnomer as it doesn’t respond in any sense to actual demand, or indeed need.
Most of my correspondents have been older people but this loss of more scheduled services will also have an impact on travel to education, employment and training – and thus upon NEETS. It will negate the Suffolk Conservative election pledge of a revived Youth Travel card. (What use is a youth travel card if there is no bus to travel on? ) Demand responsive transport is not set up to satisfy the regular, timely requirements of travel to education, employment and training as recent research has underlined http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/media/28-may-young-people-research
It will continue the negative effect on tourism caused by the current (in my opinion crackbrained) transport system which sees would-be visitors to Suffolk stymied by a double whammy of a rail company (Greater Anglia) that only performs engineering works at weekends and public holidays – and a rural bus service that has stopped all services at these times. Again, Demand Responsive transport is of little help in this case because the tourist has to know about it in advance and know where they will be to pick it up, and understand the booking system. Never was there a service less fit for purpose!
We need our county council to do more to subsidise scheduled services – and i have copied this letter to the new Cabinet member for Transport, asking him to look at this. But we need more – we need all our elected representatives at all levels of government to join together to improve the status of public transport in Suffolk – indeed in all rural areas.
We fail to do so at our peril.