Local bus services are vital for binding together our local community and tackling climate change. We must do more to support them.
It is difficult to overstate how reliant our local community is on local bus services.
Almost 24 million journeys are made on local bus services in Devon each and every year. Well over one-in-three of these journeys are concessionary ones made by the elderly or those with disabilities.
These local transport links act as a lifeline for the most vulnerable in our community, and one which I am determined to keep open.
Many of us depend on routes 15, 16, 18 and 18A to get around and residents are right to be concerned about potential reductions in these services.
We use them to get work, to go to the shops, to get to the hospital in Torquay, and to visit our friends living in different villages.
These bus routes help bind together our community, and it is vital they are kept open.
That is why I have been regularly raising my concerns with the operators, Stagecoach and Country Bus, and discussing what more can be done to keep these routes running.
Moreover, I have been meeting with Government ministers about our bus services, passing on the concerns of local residents.
I was glad to pass on the concerns of a number of residents I recently met with in Brixham - while maintaining social distancing, naturally! - after they had written to me about this very issue.
As well as the direct impact that a reduction in bus services would have on residents, reductions would also have an indirect impact through our local economy.
Bus services help facilitate tourism, which people across Devon and the South West are dependent on for jobs and pay.
At a time when this important sector is on its knees from Covid-19, the last thing our local community needs is tourists going elsewhere because they can’t get around Devon easily on our buses.
Leaving aside the impact that reductions in these services would have on our local community, it is worth considering the impact this would have on our planet.
Devon County Council has made a great deal of progress in reducing our carbon footprint.
Since the Conservatives wrested control of the council from the Lib Dems in 2009, carbon dioxide emissions per head of population have fallen by over one-quarter across our county.
Unfortunately, within these emissions, those resulting from transport have remained stubbornly high - they have fallen by just two per cent over the same period.
Given the myriad environmental benefits of using public transport services, encouraging greater use of buses to get around Devon will help drive our transport emissions down faster.
This can’t happen soon enough - the pandemic we are all embroiled in at present shows all too clearly what happens when we fail to respect our environment and our planet.
That is why I am encouraged that the Government is showing renewed vigour in supporting local bus services up and down the country.
Responding to concerns from local councils across England in 2018, the Government boosted the annual Rural Services Delivery Grant for local councils to £81 million.
This led to a £290,000 increase in local bus service funding here in Devon.