When the Epping Forest Transport Action Group found out about proposals to cut evening services on the 250 and 251, cutting off anyone who worked evening shifts or wanted to go out in the evening, it sprang into action. Dave Plummer, the group organiser, explains how they are campaigning to save buses.
Over the last couple of years Epping Forest has seen a succession of bus service cuts with routes cut short, timetabled services reduced and some going altogether. In early June we heard another threat to services when Essex County Council launched a consultation into proposals to withdraw funding for two evening services - the 250 and 251. If these services are lost, there will be no buses at all through Waltham Abbey after about 7.30pm. People working late shifts in warehouses, bars and restaurants won't be able to get home. People who are socialising will have to make sure they are ready to go home from 7pm.
Epping Forest generally, and Waltham Abbey particularly, is already poorly served by buses with no night buses, expensive fares, limited services and competing bus operators timetabling to undermine each other.
Neglect of passenger transport
Of Essex County Council's £208 million Highways and Transport budget (£75 million revenue budget, £133 million capital budget), only £31 million is going to passenger transport and Essex ranks third in the Campaign for Better Transport's list of counties with the most bus cuts, service alterations and withdrawals. What money the county council spends on passenger transport tends to go to the larger towns in the centre and south of the county - Basildon, Chelmsford, Colchester. Epping Forest is a forgotten corner, despite the M25 running through the middle of it.
When we found out about the proposed loss of the 250 and 251 services we sprang into action, promoting the consultation on social media and in the local press. Conviently the consultation closed on 3rd July, the same day as Catch the Bus Week launched. That gave us a superb opportunity to hold a joint rally with Campaign for Better Transport in Waltham Abbey, killing two birds with one stone. Lianna Etkind came along with a banner and placards and gave a smashing address to the rally about Catch the Bus Week and the importance of local bus services.
As ever with events of this nature, the event itself isn't the main reason for holding it - it's another means of promoting the campaign. The rally got the message out to a lot of people about the consultation and Catch the Bus Week. Signatures to our online petition swelled as a result, and we gather Essex County Council had quite a few more responses to the consultation than they might have expected! The comments on the petition make powerful reading: "I have an elderly father who relies on this bus service". "I need the bus to get from work, I use it everyday, I cannot afford taxis from the cross every night". "My boy has just turned 16 and uses the buses daily....he relies on the service from Shernbroke Road, how else could he get about?"
'I don't care about buses - I've got three cars'
One of the problems we face is that very few, if any, of our elected representatives regularly use public transport. If they did there's a good chance that the last bus from the District Council offices to Waltham Abbey wouldn't leave two hours before full District Council meetings start. Another problem is that people don't make the connection between poor public transport and increased congestion and parking problems. While I was promoting the rally somebody said to me, 'I don't care about buses - I've got three cars'. Fortunately few people are quite that blatant, but promoting public transport as a way to cut congestion and parking problems is one of our key arguments locally.
However, if we're going to ask people to use public transport instead of their cars the public transport needs to be there for them to use.
The economic, environmental, social and health benefits of public transport are well known - we just need to get the message out to our communities and councillors so that public transport gets the investment it deserves.