Strategy to ensure bus network reflects needs of community

The Rural Mobility Fund offers an initial £20m to help rural communities trial innovative on-demand services.

The Rural Mobility Fund offers an initial £20m to help rural communities trial innovative on-demand services. - Credit: National Bus Strategy

Earlier this year, the Government launched a National Bus Strategy report.

After several years of consultation, this report is directed towards delivering an ambitious strategy that will improve bus services for passengers across the country – in both rural and urban settings.

Linked with this report comes £5bn of funding for buses, cycling and walking, demonstrating a clear determination to improve our public transport links.

Here in South Devon, we are all too familiar with the somewhat patchy network of public transport options, from the lack of train stations to buses that either don't run or are too infrequent.

These problems are only exacerbated during peak tourism season when thousands more cars are driven across our area and congestion rises exponentially. 

But what will this new strategy mean for places like South Devon? 

First, it seeks to create enhanced Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) that will have increased responsibility for local bus services.

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Under these proposals, LTAs will be able to enter into enhanced partnerships with operators or create franchising arrangements.

By enhancing responsibility in the area, we can de-centralise the bureaucracy from Whitehall to South Devon and ensure we have a bus network that reflects the needs of our community.

Second, implementing a simpler fare structure, increasing the frequency of buses, improving route options and enhancing green transport technology.

Through improving the fare system and introducing multiple-use ticket systems across multiple operators, we can help reduce the current complexity while encouraging residents to use a greener mode of travel.

Third, the Rural Mobility Fund offers an initial £20m to help rural communities trial innovative on-demand services.

This might be a satellite service around one of our towns that helps people reach major arterial bus services to Torbay, Plymouth and Exeter, or it might be a minibus-style service that does short-haul journeys.

Whatever the model, we have an opportunity to design a system that is fit for purpose in South Devon.

Fourth, joining up our transport network timetables. By encouraging greater cooperation between our trains, ferries and buses, we can create a network that allows different modes of transport to work alongside one another as opposed to against.

It would benefit tourists and residents alike, and help to break the deadlock and resistance of those who have fallen out of love with our public transport network.

Of course, these are the ambitions of the strategy, but it is now down to each part of South Devon to come up with proposals.

From town and parish councils to district and county councillors, we must now work together to create a new bus service network that increases usage and is fit for purpose throughout the year.

However, it is not just those in local office whose views need to be heard, but also residents.

I have recently launched a local bus strategy survey on my website  - AnthonyMangnall.co.uk - to gauge your views and to understand your needs.

In October this year, Local Transport Authorities will submit their bus proposals for their respective areas to the Department for Transport.

We would do better to ensure we have two buses coming at once than none at all!