Last week the Government’s Transport Select Committee published a report on Passenger Transport in Isolated Communities. We welcome this report which is at times a damning portrait of the current lack of public transport in isolated areas. This report provides a detailed look at why it is important to define isolation and why this is not confined solely to rural areas; indeed anyone can suffer from isolation whether in rural or urban areas and anywhere in between, isolation is not a rural specific issue.
The report made for stark reading and confirms what we already knew, that passenger transport in isolated areas is in the whole poor and declining further, and must be improved to avoid social isolation, loneliness and all the other devastating impacts a lack of transport can cause.
The key to this report is that the Government understands exactly what isolation is and the committee has called on the Department for Transport (DfT) to come up with a definition and quickly. The Passenger Transport Executive Group (PTEG) suggested in the report that 'any community risked isolation if it did not have passenger transport that fulfilled these four criteria: Available, Accessible, Affordable and Acceptable - The four A's as it were.
One of the more welcome parts of this report was the committee stressing the need for the DfT to work more closely with other Government departments. The stand out paragraph in the committee’s report reads….
“The DfT must recognise that passenger transport provision is fundamental to achieving the objectives of the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education in isolated communities. The DfT needs to work with those Departments and other concerned agencies to secure targeted funding that provides passenger transport services for young people, people with low incomes and unemployed people who live in isolated rural and urban communities. To meet that target, the DfT will need to take a leadership role on behalf of isolated communities to facilitate cross-departmental and multi-agency working."
This is something that we at Campaign for Better Transport have been campaigning for over many months and a brand new report from our colleagues at the Passenger Transport Executive Group (Pteg) entitled ‘Making the Connections – the Cross Sector Benefits of Supporting Bus Services’ clearly makes the case for this.
The ball is now firmly in the DfT’s court to coordinate action between these Government departments, and make the case for why they all have a stake in the future of the bus. Pooled investment from these departments now can avoid a much greater financial cost to the public purse further down the line, by militating against the long term impacts of underinvestment in buses.
Greener Journeys recently spelled out the economic value of buses in their Buses and the Economy II report. With the economy growing, but with more big cuts looming this year – councils are looking to cut £23.3m from a collective local authority transport budget this year of £260m - the DfT and the wider Government would do well to take a very close look to ensure that bus users in isolated communities are not left behind.