We were talking to a delegate at a conference recently about the importance of local bus services.
This is what he said:
‘My father is 85 now and has lived on his own for the last 10 years.
Although the family don’t live local to him, we always try and make sure at least one of us visits at the weekend. During the week, though, he is by himself. He doesn’t know any of his neighbours. They are young people who seem to have busy lives.
My father believes in routine. Each morning he waits till he can use his bus pass (as many elderly people do) and he catches the bus to the city centre. It’s about half an hour journey. The trip gets him out of the house and gives him something to look forward to. He does his shopping then catches the bus home.
He tells me that the bus he catches into the city is always busy – largely elderly people who are doing the same as him. He describes the journey as ‘the happy part of the day.’ The same people travel each time and he has made so many friends this way. He says the sense of community reminds him of the ‘good old days.’
Everyone on the bus has the same story. They have lost their other half or partner and, if it wasn’t for their daily venture into the city, they would have little human contact. These are people who have been surrounded by family, friends and work colleagues. And then, all of a sudden, no-one.
As my father puts it. We live in a world where we are more connected than ever. The Internet, smartphones, video calls, social media. However, the truth is there is an epidemic of loneliness out there – and it’s very sad.
Every day the same scene is played out in every village, town and city across the UK.
But this is just one vital role local bus services play. Here are further reasons local bus services play a vital role in our communities – selected from a very long list.
Cutting carbon emissions – It’s estimated that 40,000 deaths each year in the UK can be traced to poor air quality. Reducing emissions from transport is key and the fact is that, without an effective bus network, governments will never meet their targets.
Maximising street space – The demand for new homes in the UK is high but space is short. Encouraging people to use public transport reduces the use of cars and the need for car parks and on street parking.
Bringing people into city centres – It’s in everyone’s interests to see the regeneration of town and city centres. Poor transport networks make it difficult for people to get into the high street, speeding up the decline.
Supporting young people – It’s not only older people who suffer from loneliness. In one survey following the lockdown, it was found that levels of loneliness in people aged between 16-20 were as high as those aged above 65. Young people are unlikely to have cars. Efficient local bus services are important for young people to get to college and connect with friends.
In February 2023, the government announced an additional £155 million extra funding for local bus services to encourage people to use the services. This was by way of a £2 fare price cap. In the statement, the spokesperson said:
‘The government recognises the importance of local bus services to ensure communities can stay connected and in enabling people to access work, education and vital local services such as healthcare.
We also know the bus companies have faced challenges following the pandemic including lower passenger numbers compared to pre-pandemic levels. We are working closely with the bus operators and Local Transport Authorities to deliver on our ambition set out in the National Bus Strategy for everyone, everywhere to have access to affordable and reliable bus services.’
Fine words. We can only hope the support continues given the vital role local bus services play in our communities.
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