Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents


Written evidence from T Reese (BUS 97)

1.  SUMMARY

The changes to bus services in Somerset this spring are devastating, and were introduced with no consultation.

2.  MY DETAILS

I am 63 years of age, fit, and able to walk, ride or use public transport. My wife and I own a car each, and use it whenever public transport is not available as a viable alternative. I am required to report any deterioration in my diabetic conditions to DVLA, and I have a three-year driving licence. I am aware of the damage to the environment by the increased use of private transport and I can forsee a time when I will not able to drive. I am therefore a local advocate for public transport, and I have seen welcome improvements in public transport over the past few years.

3.  You asked for information under a number of headings so i will try to follow your list of headings below.

4.  THE IMPORTANCE TO ME OF LOCAL BUS SERVICES

I see local bus services as becoming more important to me for the reasons outlined in paragraph 1. I use the local bus services between West Coker village and Yeovil whenever possible, but there have been no evening services for some time, so my use is limited at present to occasional daytime journeys. I travel by train to Exeter quite frequently (about three times a week, often including on Sundays) but there are no convenient connecting bus services at present. In other words, I don't use buses very often, but as there have been slow improvements over the past few years, and I am looking forward to more reliance on public transport, I am very concerned if the bus service appears to deteriorate.

5.  RECENT CHANGES

Somerset County Council announced in November 2010 that it was going to balance its budget over the next few years, which would result in halving the subsidies to local bus services. The announcement at the time was that up to half of all Somerset bus services would disappear in the three-year period. Since then, there has been no consultation, until March 2011, when Somerset County Council announced that it had withdrawn all subsidies for evening, Sunday and Public Holiday services, and that FirstBus had agreed to try to make one Sunday service in our area commercial, on a trial use-it-or-lose-it basis. These cuts do not affect me personally, other than the reduction in Sunday service between Crewkerne Station, West Coker village and Yeovil. As I said above, I have not used these services as they are so infrequent that they were virtually useless to me anyway. However, we are hearing of many local cases of hardship that some of these cuts will cause.

6.  FREE CONCESSIONARY TRAVEL

I use the free concessionary travel whenever possible, and it enables to me to make bus journeys which otherwise I may not be able to afford. The fact that it is a national scheme, means that I can use it on holiday, and also for occasional trips to local market towns and countryside places. I also use it extensively in Exeter, and in other places where I am doing voluntary work, and would not wish to have to make the choice between funding my own travel, or preparing expense claims and passing on the cost to local voluntary organisations. I think this is an important point, in that it facilitates local voluntary work by the over 60's. I am aware of the difficulties of the way the costs are recovered, and the funding mechanisms, but those are incidental problems which need to be overcome, and should not be used as part of the argument as to whether the free concessionary travel is a desirable service. With improved ticketing technology, it should be possible for the difficulties to be overcome.

7.  PASSENGERS' VIEWS

As far as I am aware, no consultation of any sort was given before the announcement of the recent cuts. At the Somerset Passenger Transport Forum, held in March 2011, this point was put to the County Council, and an apology was made. It was agreed that an additional Forum is to be held in June 2011 (the forum is usually held every 6 months) so that additional ideas can be sought on how to work with the next round of cuts. I intend to use the opportunity to try to make sure that passengers and those who represent them have an opportunity to put their views in to this forum, and that Somerset County Council work to identify other sources of funding and other ways of providing public transport in the area.

8.  I am willing for any of the above to be published, and i am willing for anyone to contact me to discuss any of these points.

9.  This article appeared in the Western Gazette in February 2011:

Mum fears isolation as Sunday bus ends

AN ILMINSTER woman has said that she is losing the only support she and her son get after First Bus revealed it was cutting Sunday services because of Somerset County Council economy measures.

Karen Platt attends Chard Baptist Church with her seven-year-old son Adam who has special needs, which cause him great difficulty in social situations.

Ms Platt recently moved from Chard to Ilminster so that her son could be better supported at Greenfylde Church of England First School, which he attends for one hour a day. She was upset to learn about the withdrawal of the Sunday bus service she uses to get to the church in her former town.

She said: "I'm devastated. I was almost in tears when I heard about the bus service cuts."

"The cuts seem to be affecting the poorest people the most."

First Bus revealed last week that it would be cutting the 30A service that runs between Taunton, Axminster, Ilminster and Chard on Sundays, public holidays and some evenings.

Ms Platt said that because Adam was not in school full time she had to be a full time carer for him and now she has lost the only support she got which came from her church.

She said: "From April I will be cut off from the only people I see and I feel very isolated. I've been going to church in Chard for years. All our friends there are used to Adam and know how to deal with him and it allows him to be in a social situation."

Adam suffers from social and behavioural problems and doesn't cope well with new people and situations.

Ms Platt said: "Social situations are hugely difficult for him and verbally he doesn't cope. He goes into melt-downs, throws tantrums and makes inappropriate comments."

"Even with me he often won't make eye contact and will phone me or leave notes instead of speaking directly."

"I've spoken to the minister in Chard and he said he will try and find someone who can drive to maybe help us but you can't expect people to do a 20-mile round trip every Sunday."

Ms Platt intends to speak to David Laws MP about her situation when he next holds a surgery in Ilminster.

She said: "I fully understand the need for cuts but it's not what it means to us. I'm stuck at home and I never ever get a break."

"Is there nothing else they can do? When I see statues going up and money being spent on other projects, nice as they are, people are losing their jobs, buses and support."

A spokesperson from the bus company said: "First has done what it can to minimise the impact of the council cuts on local people but this has not been possible in all cases."

Andrew Turpin, who represents Tatworth and Forton on South Somerset District Council and is also chairman of the parish council, is urging councils to explore all options to keep buses running, particularly the 30A service.

He said: "There are a number of serious implications as a result of these cuts."

"For huge numbers, particularly of the vulnerable both in the Chard and Ilminster locality and across the county, the effects will be devastating."

"Many of the services to be cut are very popular. For the many without a car, who depend on these services to get them to and from work, this could mean redundancy.

There are people who will no longer be able to get to church, visit friends or relatives in hospital or go shopping."

10.  OTHER SEVERE CASES OF HARDSHIP

The removal of evening services means that people who rely on a bus to get to work, and work longer hours than 9 till 5, will now not be able to get home from work in the evening.

The removal of night services in Yeovil, which have been particularly successful in getting young people home, and out of trouble, will have an effect on the local crime rate.

The removal of evening and Sunday services threatens the tourist business in the area.

April 2011



 
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