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Rural transport: what does the future hold?

Jess Fitch's picture
Photo: bus passengers

Like many rural dwellers, I have mixed feelings towards my local public transport. The buses through my Suffolk village are not exactly convenient – they're almost as rare as hens' teeth – but I've missed travelling on them this past year, not least for the community spirit on board. The trains look picturesque as they trundle through the valley, but they don't stop – the village station closed decades ago.

When we asked our social media followers what we should include in our response to the Government's consultation on the future of rural transport, many expressed similar concerns. "Bus services that actually link local villages and towns," was the modest wish of a supporter from West Sussex. "Open the railway that was closed by Beeching in the '60s," urged another from Leicestershire. 

If you have views on the future of rural transport, please respond to the Government's consultation [this consultation has now closed]. It includes questions about the importance of walking, cycling and 'mass transit' (buses and trains to you and me), and the role of rural transport in reducing carbon emissions. 

"More electric car charging points to encourage cleaner energy cars. Perhaps more car clubs in villages - my parents' village has one. And legalise electric scooters: I know they more suit small journeys in urban areas but they could be used in rural areas too." 
- A supporter in Steyning, West Sussex 

In our own response, we outlined how rural buses can have a brighter future. In normal times, buses are a lifeline for many people in rural areas, connecting them to jobs and training, shops and services, friends and family. But recent years have seen dwindling services and rising fares – well over 3,000 local authority supported bus services have been lost or reduced in a decade – and the fear is that the health crisis will make matters worse. 

Support must remain for those socially necessary services that are critical to rural communities. But as well, local authorities should coordinate different types of rural transport - commercial and subsidised bus services, community transport, NHS patient transport and school transport - to meet the needs of the community. And in sparsely populated areas there's a role for on-demand vehicles that can be booked by phone or via an app. 

"Councils need more community engagement to find out when and where people need to go and look at different models. Maybe small electric rural shuttle buses connecting frequently to the main routes would be an option"  
- A supporter in the Vale of Glamorgan  

"Rural transport mini-hubs with secure, free parking for cars and bikes, giving interchange with buses and trains" 
- A supporter in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire 

We also highlighted the need to: 

  • Reopen rail lines and stations 
  • Improve walking and cycling infrastructure 
  • Roll out more electric vehicle charging and encourage more e-bikes 
  • Support car clubs and car sharing in rural areas 
  • Provide park and ride facilities at public transport nodes 

"Make existing cycling infrastructure accessible by surfacing it - my local cycle route is not a viable way to commute unless you like arriving at your destination soaking wet and covered in mud." 
- A supporter in West Sussex 

Once the health crisis is over, the need to connect communities in a way that is greener and fairer will be more urgent than ever, so we're grateful to our supporters who shared their excellent ideas. We hope you'll feed your own ideas into the Government's consultation [this consultation has now closed] so that together we can give rural transport – including in my corner of Suffolk – a brighter future. 

Read our response to the Department for Transport Rural Transport Strategy consultation in full here.