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Getting about: Rural style
I had an interesting / reasonable enquiry this week: apparently if you have a bus pass issued by Leicester City you also get half price rail fares. Could Rutland do the same? Unfortunately, the answer is a ‘no’. This sounds incredibly mean but frankly we can’t afford it: every single one of our bus services requires a subsidy to run (in simple terms: there are insufficient users to make the route commercially viable and so if we are to have bus services at all, RCC needs to contribute money). RCC also pays for the bus pass fare. So, every single bus pass ‘free’ fare is, in effect, paid for twice. We than pop this scenario into the overall financial context of our authority – a budget that is currently using reserves to balance the books – and the ‘no’ suddenly becomes a little louder.
We are also across the proverbial barrel when it comes to tendering for contracts: none of our routes are commercially viable so, therefore, are not terribly attractive to the bigger bus companies so it is fairly typical that when a contract is tendered for, only one operator bids. I am not a queen negotiator, but this is not a great hand to be dealt!
We do have DRT (demand responsive transport – think rural Uber). This is available for the south of the county where we don’t run regular bus services. Personally, I think being able to have DRT across the whole county, run by RCC – I am thinking smaller vehicles – a fleet of minibuses – with the ability to expand and contract to meet demand would be perfect because running great big 35 seater diesel guzzling buses that are at a fraction of capacity is wasteful. I have probably made this sound far too simple – investment in infrastructure would be essential: a depot for day to day maintenance of the vehicles, bus drivers – again this is an area of workforce shortage currently – national not Rutland specific – that’s just two things that would need to be addressed. There is the other small matter of the 2017 Bus Act which prohibits local authorities from running their own bus companies.
In a nutshell: rural public transport delivery is blinking hard. The challenges are whoppers and in many ways are a chicken and egg situation: if more people used the buses, and crucially fare paying people, then the services would be more commercially viable, but it is not unreasonable to point out that people like more immediacy and frequency to their transport; a bus every hour or two with no services past 19:30 or indeed running on Sundays makes car ownership far more attractive, in fact let’s be truthful: car ownership could be argued as being essential for rural living. For our residents who cannot drive, however, a reliable transport network is essential for accessing the most basic of services – particularly if you live in a village.
This is the part where you come in: Boris has pledged £3bn to improve bus services across the country. Authorities will be able to bid for additional funds to achieve this. Rutland will be putting in a bid to support our Bus Service Improvement Plan. We need your views and ideas – please take a few minutes to complete this survey: https://future.rutland.gov.uk/bus-service-improvement-plan
I am also running a ‘decorate your bus stop’ competition on Saturday 25th September – a prize to be won – afternoon tea for 4 at the Falcon Hotel, Uppingham – if you would like additional details, please email email@example.com
I will finish with a dream: Imagine our county with such a good public transport offer that not owning a car became a real option. Imagine households with only one car. Imagine how this would ease parking. Imagine how this would make those who have no choice be fabulously independent. Imagine, imagine, imagine: If you don’t have a dream, how you going make a dream come true?
Councillor Lucy Stephenson