Great news! Today the Department for Transport announced that there is a new £4 million fund for a number of ‘Total Transport’ pilots.
As a direct result of our campaigning and our work with Pteg and others in developing this idea, Central Government has today launched a competition for local authorities to bid for a share of £4 million to launch 10 ‘Total Transport Pilots’ across England.
But what is Total Transport, I hear you ask? Well the concept of ‘Total Transport’ has existed in one form or another since the early sixties. It involves bringing together transport services currently commissioned by different central and local government departments and provided by different operators, for example inter-hospital link services, social services transport to take older people to day centres, transport for taking staff to and from prisons, and transport for children with special needs to and between schools. Universities and colleges also commission or run services.
Buses in Crisis
This announcement comes at a good time as just this week we published our latest research into Local Authority bus funding in our Buses in Crisis 2010-2015 report. Bus services and funding are being lost at an alarming rate and our research paints a bleak picture. Half of local authorities in England and Wales have cut funding for buses in the current financial year, with over £9m wiped off support for services. That brings the running total of cuts since 2010 to £44m, with more than 2000 routes reduced or withdrawn entirely.
Local authority-supported bus services are vital as they exist not to run at a profit, but to offer a service where the need for a bus has been identified but no commercially run route exists. They are relied upon by the large number of people for whom the bus is the only option – for example, people on low incomes, young people who are in education or training, older people and those with disabilities. For many in these groups, buses are a lifeline that connects them to the wider world. It links them to job opportunities, friends and family. It helps them to stay active and get to vital services like shops and doctors. Quite simply buses keep the social fabric of civilised society knitted together and without them, life as we know it can fall apart for people very quickly indeed.
A new approach
Total Transport is based on the idea that public transport, walking and cycling are not ends in themselves, but contribute to a wide range of policy objectives. This includes goals such as physical activity rates, ability to access key services, promoting independent living for older people and those with disabilities, and helping people get to employment markets.
Total Transport works by bringing together the funding and expertise behind diverse policy objectives, allowing local authorities to enhance the quality and scale of support they give to transport. This is particularly important for rural areas, which Campaign for Better Transport research has shown have been particularly hard-hit by cuts to local authority-supported bus services.
Such separate commissioning wastes significant funding, and also management time – it also takes funding and passengers from mainstream public transport services. So why not bring them all together? Total Transport allows existing resources to be allocated and co-ordinated more efficiently resulting in services for passengers that are more effective. There are good examples in the Netherlands of where Total Transport has been used successfully to improve public transport for urban and rural areas.
The speed with which the Government has moved to establish these pilots is very encouraging and will be very useful to test out pooling of funding and services locally. These pilots are about recognising that, currently, lots of different transport services are being paid for by different government departments, at often massive cost to the public purse and these services could be brought together to benefit everyone. As these pilots develop, they could and should be offered the kind of long term funding that Transport for London has, developed with full public involvement to ensure that people and communities are fully connected by public transport.
Not a magic bullet
Total Transport is not the magic bullet that will save all bus services across the country but it is a step in right direction. It's encouraging that, after years of intensive campaigning, by making the case for the bus and highlighting how swingeing bus funding cuts impact on people, politicians are starting to listen.
Please help us to continue to make the case for buses by emailing your MP today and tell them to Save Our Buses