Dorset has seen some of the biggest cuts to buses in the whole of the country. Rural buses are being cut as are evening and weekend services that connect people to jobs, eductation and training. The people of Dorset are not taking this lying down however and local campaigners are fighting back.
Here local bus campaigner Jane Burnet tells her story of how the bus cuts are impacting on Dorset's communities and how people are fighting back......
Over the last two financial years the bus services in Dorset have been thrown into the mix of services to have their funding cut. I’m a bus campaigner and also a member of The Green Party in Dorset and we are concerned about all the cuts but the cuts to bus services are particularly alarming because it is the old, those with disabilities and those on low incomes who are being most seriously affected.
In a rural county like ours, with very few rail links, buses serve as the life blood for many residents. Last year many bus users thought the cuts were managed in a careless and poorly researched manner.
The nature of the Council’s research before the last cuts was a cause for concern. The cuts were based on a survey conducted in the winter when passenger numbers were at their lowest, resulting in an underestimation of the number of ticket sales on many routes. Careless or callous, confidence in the Council’s understanding of how vital these services are is low.
During our bus campaign last year we heard from a young woman in Swanage with diabetes who relied on the early morning service to Poole to get to hospital appointments in time so she could then go to work without losing money. This service was cut.
We heard from Mr. Hall from Wimbourne, a visually impaired bus user. He was, and still is, desperately worried about the services that have been lost and those that might follow. He explained that the government’s determination to cut ESA (Employment Support Allowance) to encourage disabled people to work would make life intolerable for some people. Losing this allowance and the means to travel to work is, at best ill considered, at worst, callous.
And there are increasing numbers of job seekers living in rural areas who can no longer afford to go to the job centre or for interviews. Buses are essential to ‘get Britain back to work’ but the decision makers don’t seem to appreciate this and policies seem to be increasingly disjointed.
The cuts contradict the Government’s own transport policy.Our council received a grant of £2.4m from the Department for Transport from the Sustainable Local Travel Fund ‘to support economic growth and lower carbon emissions in the local area’. A lot of this money was spent on signs indicating the availability of parking spaces while vital bus services, that represent so much more to our communities than simply a commercial operation, were cut. Can sustainable travel be achieved by slashing bus subsidies by over 27 per cent?
Another reason for concern in our council’s handling of the cuts is that, last year, it was only after wide spread objections to the initial bus proposals that the council realised they had an extra £95,000. Some Saturday services were saved but would they have found this money had we not all objected so strongly?
But this should also be a cause of celebration because it demonstrates that campaigning against cuts to bus services, with the help of information from organisations such as Campaign for Better Transport, can push decision makers into reversing some decisions. Campaigning results in people coming forward with their experiences and exposure in the press enables decision makers to be held to account.
Dorset has a shocking rail service. We are about 0.6 per cent of the UK population. If this fraction of the money being promised for HS2 came to Dorset our transport problems could be solved. We hope there will be no more cuts to our buses but if there are, there’ll be more campaigning.
You can follow Jane on twitter here @JaneGreenParty