Buses - ‘Adjustment’ to services will hit rural communities most

Tetford and Salmonby Parish Council are so concerned about the threat to supported local buses that they have initiated a residents’ travel survey; a contingency study of alternative (eg community) transport and have also written to Victoria Atkins MP asking her to urge Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) to hold a ‘full and proper’ public consultation across the county this autumn.

They have also contacted Louth and Horncastle Town Councils suggesting a common approach.

The aims of ‘a full and proper’ consultation are to:

L inform Lincolnshire households, one fifth of which have no car, (one tenth in rural areas)

L gather evidence for constituents to lobby their respective MPs to seek fair funding from government,

L give communities the chance to consider alternatives, if any, eg community transport

L recognise material changes to the Local Transport Plan LTP4 (accessibility, healthcare & growth).

18 months ago, the efforts of MPs, LCC, residents, national campaign groups and the media secured extra Government funding and a reprieve for about 130 rural bus subsidies.

That money runs out in March 2018 and the financial picture is bleaker than ever. Nationally, councils across the UK have slashed rural bus subsidies and the Local Government Association belatedly woke up and told government of their concern, with little tangible effect.

The huge disparity in North-South government spending on transport remains.

Consultation ‘rules’ essentially mean there must be enough time (preferably 12 weeks), plus sufficient detail to be clear about the content and aims, but not so late or prescriptive as to be mere rubber stamping.

Derbyshire County Council recently undertook a bus cuts consultation.

LCC are in a position to do so now, but regrettably, our elected representatives in LCC are playing ‘deny and delay’ so that they face little resistance until the 2018-2019 budgets are set, by which time it will be too late to object. LCC do not wish to involve the public even though it worked in 2016.

The intention seems to be to ‘consult’ eventually on the detail not the substance.

LCC are warning of the huge cuts they have to make to services generally, while at the same time making soothing noises over specifics including bus subsidies.

LCC responses to date such as “no decisions will be made until 2018…” are meaningless unless backed up by ring-fenced funding and contracts running beyond 2019 without break-clauses.

Remember that LCC surprised the public with £2.2m in proposed cuts to rural bus subsidies as part of a £42million cuts ‘survey’ announced just before Christmas 2016-17.

Cumulative cuts since 2009/10 mean that people in rural Lincolnshire simply cannot rely on a dwindling bus service with deteriorating connections to get to work or to increasingly distant medical services.

Furthermore, though the Local Transport Plan (LTP4) is coy about buses (“challenging”) and tries to shift attention to faltering community transport initiatives of the past, the likely removal of millions of passenger journeys from overall capacity will undermine accessibility, housing development, business or tourism.

LCC officers have been ‘adjusting’ bus services and subsidies continuously and have shown great ingenuity over back-office savings and ‘smarter’ bus use intended to get more from less.

The ‘Total Transport’ trial to combine public, NHS, Social Services and Schools transport is struggling; Community minibus brokerage has vanished; volunteer cars need more drivers and have no capability to transport people in wheelchairs.

LCC said that they would try to protect main Interconnect bus services and the Call Connect service.

There are about 260+ ‘ad-hoc’ services of which about 110 are schools services permitted to carry ordinary passengers.

The other 150 mainly serve rural areas, market towns and suburbs and these are most at risk.

Many councils have already stopped free Bus Pass travel before 9.30am, which is still free in Lincolnshire.

Call Connect is unlikely to remain the same, as extra passengers displaced from reduced fixed-route services compete for bookings.

This translates into being far less flexible in order to carry more people.

We already see Call Connect giving preference to organised groups (eg healthcare or social groups) or making Call Connect minibuses do double-duty.

The revised 39 Skegness Town Service now uses an existing Call Connect minibus for some fixed-route journeys, then for flexible bookings for the rest of the day.

The result is less overall capacity on fixed-route journeys and less bookable journeys than previously.

Dick Fowler

Tetford Hill

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