“There used to be a bus every hour. Now we hardly leave the house”
From The Guardian: When Jill White, 53, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, she had three years of treatment, including operations and chemotherapy. It was a stressful enough experience to go through, but White, who is single and doesn’t drive, also faced a four-hour round trip, on a good day, to get to a hospital that was only 13 miles away, because buses from her village of Tatworth, Somerset only run on average every two hours.
“My appointments were often at 9am, so to get to Taunton hospital I would have to leave by 7am,” she says. “And then, even though I would be really tired after treatment, I faced another two-hour trip to get home again. Four hours was a good journey. It could have quite easily been a lot longer.”
White says the service used to be quite good. “When I first moved here 20 years ago, there was a bus every hour, evening, weekend and bank holiday – and they were reasonably punctual. Now they are often 30 minutes late, there are no buses on Sundays or bank holidays – and nothing after 6pm.” White’s situation is far from unique. A report last week by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) found that local authority funding for bus routes in England and Wales has been cut by 45% since 2010 and more than 3,000 routes reduced or scrapped. This prompted the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to raise the bus issue in parliament during last week’s prime minister’s questions, where he promised to “save” the bus industry and give all those aged under 26 free bus travel.
Many bus services are run commercially, mainly financed by passenger fares. Councils may then choose to subsidise those routes that are economically unviable but deemed important to maintain. Yet cash-strapped councils are being forced to reduce or scrap these subsidised bus services.
The CBT report found that 14 have slashed funding to zero and no longer spend anything on supporting buses. They include Cumbria, which spent £8.1m on bus routes in 2010; Oxfordshire, which spent £5.8m; and Bristol, which spent £5.1m. A further five have cut more than 90% of funding. Steve Chambers, CBT’s public transport campaigner, says: “Bus routes up and down the country are disappearing at an alarming rate, and these cuts show no signs of slowing. We are seeing the slow death of the local bus and there seems to be very little political will to do anything about it.” Chambers says that while some routes have either been altered or reduced in frequency, many have been removed entirely. “Once a route is gone, it is very difficult to get it back. Lots of people are now in the situation where they do not have access to any public transport at all and are forced to rely on expensive taxis or beg neighbours for lifts.”
The findings follow a report by the Local Government Association last month, which warned that nearly half of all bus routes in England are fully or partially subsidised by councils and were therefore under threat due to government austerity.