The 'Don't Cut us Off' campaign has been working tirelessly to save their Saturday bus service after it was threatened with being withdrawn. Last week the campaign with other local bus user groups from around Somerset organised a public meeting with local councillors and bus operators. Sparks were flying and here local Campaigner Garfield Kennedy writes a guest blog on why he is standing up for local buses.
We’re the “Don’t Cut Us Off!” campaign group in Somerset that was formed when all Saturday bus services to and from the town of Shepton Mallet (population 10,500 and the closest town to the Glastonbury Festival!) were under threat of closure in December. Martin Abrams of the Campaign for Better Transport contacted us and has been a great supporter of our campaign ever since. We kicked up enough dust to stop subsidies being removed by Somerset County Council and saved all the services (for now).
We then had a meeting last week in Shepton Mallet to fight for improved services since what we have at present is far from ideal with no evening buses, appalling and non-existent connections, no buses after 6pm, no Sunday buses, buses that fail to go to the local train stations and hospitals etc etc.
We want to thank all those (about 55 members of the public, councillors and Simon Ward, Commercial Manager of First Group) who attended this Public Meeting last Thursday to discuss the future of bus services in Somerset. We are especially grateful to Martin Abrams who travelled from London to take part.
If we had lost our Saturday services, it would have cut off the town and nearby villages from early Friday evening to mid-morning Monday. Our campaign has combined forces with the Frome and Villages Bus Users’ Group and we now want to widen the campaign to include Glastonbury, Street, Wells and surrounding settlements across Somerset. We know that they all have similar issues.
Of course the ultimate irony is that bus users from further afield couldn’t get to and from Shepton to last week’s meeting since we have no evening bus services.
We see a combination of local intelligent tinkering – involving listening to bus users' experiences and suggestions, bringing bus companies together, involving our County politicians and just as important, working with the Campaign for Better Transport to apply pressure at national level to change policy since our local situation is a reflection of a countrywide problem.
It was obvious from the meeting that unchecked market forces aren't delivering the services that the public has a right to expect. Our hope is that a middle way could be found where core routes are made to match need.
We believe it is possible to address the most glaring issues - like the utter stupidity of buses arriving in the City of Wells two minutes after "connecting" buses leave for Bristol, the lack of any service to match the start and end of work and college days, the lack of routes that connect logically with hospitals and rail stations, the lack of Sunday services, the lack of evening services (to make it possible to enjoy entertainment, cinema etc), better indication of routes on the sides of buses, and improved and integrated timetables and simplified cross-company ticketing.
In this era of sophisticated IT systems, it is unacceptable that nothing can be done to vastly improve connections and services to more closely match the lives of our citizens. Continuing to run down our arterial buses in our rural communities flies in the face of the increasing demand for services to connect an expanding population; it fails to address a reduction in our carbon footprint; it wastes public money (since Somerset County Council and the government are throwing money at a broken system that they have failed to manage), and it damages our local and national economy, cutting people off from jobs, and isolating individuals and communities.
We have no easy one-solution-fits-all answer other than a distinct feeling that buses are not used by those who legislate and that the dog's breakfast of services that we currently have is probably close to the worst way to serve the public outside of a third world country.
At last week’s public meeting, Martin Abrams quoted the former mayor of Bogota in Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa: “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport”. Rural Somerset and the rest of the UK could learn from that!