We know that bus cuts can be devastating for local people - but what about for tourists and the businesses that rely on them? This guest blog by transport journalist Rhodri Clark considers a hidden cost of cutting buses.
"It's received wisdom in Britain that car ownership is liberating, but catching the bus can be more liberating still if you're heading to the countryside for a walk. If you've arrived by bus, you can finish your walk at a different bus stop instead of having to return to your starting point. In mountainous areas, you're free to plot a route on the map which connects two different valleys, either side of the uplands. Dedicated long-distance walkers break Britain's long-distance National Trails into sections between bus stops which they can complete in a day.
Buses are also liberating for tourists who can't drive cars to beauty spots, or choose not to. They include many people who have come from overseas to holiday, study or work in Britain. Many don't hold driving licences or lack the confidence to drive hire cars on the “wrong” side of the road. The rail network will get them out of the cities, but they need buses to reach most of our finest lakes, beaches, mountains, moors, villages and rural market towns.
The attractiveness of rail-served towns for holidays or long weekends can be enhanced if visitors know there are buses to take them to, from and between the outlying attractions which they wish to see during their stay.
However, the economic benefits of inbound tourism rarely feature in deliberations on the costs and benefits of subsidised buses. Local government is under financial pressure to reduce spending on public transport. Most authorities look beyond the naked “subsidy per passenger journey” statistics and give weight to factors such as residents' access to healthcare, employment and education facilities, but how often are the benefits to the local tourism sector quantified and included?
In many rural areas, dial-a-ride or community transport services have replaced buses. Are they available to visitors and do they operate at suitable times? How easy is it for intending visitors (including those whose first language isn't English) to find timetable and route information, understand the system and pre-book their journeys?
Sunday bus services often bear the brunt of cuts, but for working-age people Sunday is the main day of the week for walking and other leisure activities. Some users of Sunday bus services on the Gower peninsula chose to visit the area after finding that other places which they would have liked to visit had no suitable public transport on Sundays. Over the past five years, approximately 30% of Gower passengers on Sundays have been from overseas.
Sunday buses also provide routes back to local railheads for staying visitors. When Herefordshire County Council decided to withdraw subsidy for Sunday bus services between Hereford and Hay-on-Wye, businesses in Hay were so alarmed at the potential impact on staying visitors and daytrippers that they took the risk of funding Sunday services, helped by contributions from well-wishers.
Elsewhere, businesses tend to be rather quiet about buses. Many chambers of commerce volunteer their opinions on local car parking but may not appreciate the existing and potential economic benefits of bus services. Few visitors would lobby for retention or improvement of a bus service which they used a few years ago or might want to use in the future. Perhaps local businesses should be the visitors' advocates.
Where suitable bus services do exist, businesses can help to secure the services' future by promoting the bus option in their publicity, ideally with more than a vague reference to the existence of buses beneath the detailed directions for motorists. Attractions could also offer discounts for visitors who arrive by bus, especially where the cost of providing free car parking is covered by admission prices."