Shropshire Council has been consulting on drastic cuts to local bus services. The council is only concerned with saving £455,000 – plus an unspecified saving on concessionary fares. This is a slash and burn exercise driven by a council that doesn’t have a strategy for the future of public transport in the county.
The proposals will cut Bishop’s Castle off except for the school run. It is bad news for sustainable transport in Shrewsbury with a substantial hike in park and ride costs. In Ludlow, the popular 701 town service will be cut by a third.
These cuts will disproportionately disadvantage older and vulnerable people, along with those of limited mobility. Shropshire Council has failed to assess the impact of the cuts on people, communities and the environment.
Buses are a social service. By providing access to medical, retail and social facilities, they promote health and wellbeing. That lowers costs elsewhere in public sector, including the care sector and the NHS.
The council hasn’t a clue about how these cuts will affect vulnerable people and communities. It has not conducted an equalities impact assessment (EqIA) for this proposal. It’s not a statutory commitment but most public policy makers conduct an EqIA before any change that might affect vulnerable groups.
The 701 and 722 services are community centres on wheels. Passengers exchange news. If someone is not seen, enquiries are made. They are an essential part of the social fabric of our community.
Few routes in the south of the county can be run on a commercial basis. But the social and wellbeing gain from buses means that they more than pay their way.
Turning specifically to the 701. The proposal is to reduce the service to a 45-minute frequency. We unitary councillors oppose this. The timing is tight but the service is often full on trips before midday. The reduction in frequency will lead to a reduction in use. The proposed timing will confuse residents. The savings would not be large as the cost for the driver and relief driver will remain the same. There will be a saving on fuel but fare income would also drop.
No changes to Ludlow town services are needed at this point. In a few years’ time, we will need to reroute services to serve residents in new housing developments in Ludford. We councillors have been working with developers on this. An upgrade to the park and ride is long overdue and once it is completed, passenger numbers will increase. The future of public transport could look very different in Ludlow. We are unable to plan for this while the consistent message from Shropshire Council is that buses are unaffordable and not essential to the future of market towns and communities.
I am appalled that Shropshire Council should propose these cuts without a coherent strategy for the future of public transport across the county, especially the rural districts. The future of transport in our county is not just roads. Buses have a vital role in supporting rural communities and vulnerable people.
The council should rethink the cuts. It should promote buses. It no longer issues timetables and the paper timetables on bus stops can be years out of date. Instead of its cowardly approach to sustainable public transport should become a bus champion.
Millions are being pumped into roads around Shrewsbury and Oswestry in the name of sustainable transport. But there is nothing sustainable about the work going on there. It is all about cars. A true sustainable transport strategy would prioritise rail and buses, along with local walking and cycling. Shropshire Council is as always a long way behind its peers in local government.