Photo: Shutterstock.com / Ceri Breeze
Three quarters of all public transport journeys in Wales are made by bus and approximately 80% of bus users do not have access to a car. This highlights the importance of the bus in providing choice and opportunities for everyone. Yet, bus service availability has decreased by 19% in the last decade while fares have risen sharply.
The reality for many people who rely on these services is one of daily worry and stress. In particular, in rural areas, young people and jobseekers see their ability to find or stay in work impacted by the lack of availability of public transport. Other people who have a choice often will drive and won’t consider the bus, as services remain poor. To deliver on its promises to cut traffic levels and carbon emissions, it is these people that the Welsh Government will need to tempt out of their cars.
After shelving a previous reform early on in the pandemic, the Welsh Government published a White Paper this March titled “One network, one timetable, one ticket: planning buses as a public service for Wales”. It is being consulted upon until 24th June 2022.
The Welsh Government aims to deliver a bus system that forms part of an integrated transport network that provides a seamless and accessible travel option, wherever and whenever people need it, throughout Wales.
These proposals come nearly 40 years after the Transport Act 1985 deregulated bus services, deregulation that has since been widely recognised as not serving the public interest. Wales’ ambition follows efforts in England and Scotland to partially re-regulate. These have so far failed to deliver much improvement. The key difference is that in Wales, the government is proposing to manage the franchising in order to reduce the impact on local authorities, who will still remain key in deciding what happens locally.
With the COVID-related drop in bus use threatening many services and the need for the bus to play a bigger role in tackling climate change, this reform will be essential. It will however mean little unless it comes with the resources that enable a step change in service provision and attract people back on board.
We will need proper integration between bus services and rail and through mobility hubs to other transport options. Until people are able to move around Wales in a seamless way using public transport, many people’s quality of life and opportunities will be impacted. These are things that shouldn’t be dependent on having access to a car, an increasingly expensive item. In this period of economic uncertainty, the improvement in bus services will play an increasingly central role in keeping everyone connected to their jobs, family, friends, goods and services.
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