A group representing bus users across the UK has published a 10-point plan to reverse the decline in rural services.
Bus Users UK said ‘changing lifestyles, flexible working, funding cuts and the regulatory environment are forcing rural bus services into decline’.
It added that over the past two decades rural bus services have experienced a ‘perfect storm’ of rising operational costs, increasing regulation, particularly for community transport providers, funding cuts from local authorities, and a lack of competition to run services.
Its report, Rural buses: reversing the decline, examines the reasons behind the fall in rural bus services and looks at the costs ‘in terms of rising inequality, social isolation and deprivation’.
Chief executive Claire Walters said: ‘Creative and innovative solutions to the rural transport crisis are urgently needed, but will only be possible with reform of the bodies and the regulatory environment that govern it.
‘Access to affordable and reliable transport in rural areas doesn’t just improve the lives of the people it serves: it has wider social, environmental and economic advantages that benefit us all.’
The report sets out a 10-point plan which the group said aims to regenerate the industry and ensure that rural transport meets the needs of local communities.
It calls for reform of the Traffic Commissioners to have regard for the interests of bus users, modernisation of the role of the DVSA, for local authorities to take a more consumer-led approach to transport, and for local partnership working to be a requirement between local authorities and bus operators.
It also calls for a trial for new models of rural bus provision built on community interest or co-operative principles.
CPT UK, the trade body representing the bus and coach industry said the 10-point plan ‘reveals a number of shared industry objectives’.
Chief executive Graham Vidler said: ‘The industry remains fully committed to meeting its passengers’ needs and supporting initiatives designed to further enhance and bolster local bus networks, especially in rural areas of the country where services have been reduced or withdrawn.’
The 10-point plan
- Reform the role of Traffic Commissioners to have regard for the interests of bus users. The DVSA’s role should be modernised to make it more accessible and user-friendly, and it should be bought under the direct control of the Regulator, following the Scottish model.
- Lower barriers of entry to the industry without compromising safety, to encourage new start businesses.
- Reform Section 63 of the 1985 Transport Act to give local authorities a ‘duty’ rather than a ‘power’ under the Act.
- Reform the local transport responsibilities of local authorities to promote a consumer-led approach.
- Issue guidance on school start and finish times.
- Reform community transport regulations.
- Increase rural accessibility.
- Trial ideas for new models of rural bus provision built on community interest or cooperative principles.
- Make local partnership working a requirement between local authorities and bus operators of any kind.
- Address the transport needs of the rural population.