Sunday, 25 October 2015 22:34

Minister admits rural transport concern

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Minister admits rural transport concern

POOR public transport in rural areas is a "very real concern," a government minister has conceded.

Transport minister Andrew Jones was speaking during an event at the National Railway Museum, York, on Friday (23 October),

Most people in London and other large cities were generally satisfied with the quality of their bus service, he told listeners at Total Transport North 2015.

Customer satisfaction had improved in most areas, said Mr Jones.

But he added: "Elsewhere, particularly in rural districts, the picture can be very different.

"Here, inadequate transport provision is a very real concern."

Transport affected the prosperity and quality of life of many people living in the countryside, said Mr Jones.

"I also know that local authorities have found it tough to provide bus services that people need, but which require subsidy because they are not commercially viable.

"Many rural bus services fall into this category.

"They tend to have fewer passengers and journey lengths are longer, making them more expensive to run.

"I fully appreciate that rural authorities have had to make difficult decisions regarding their support for these services.

"But they play a vital role in connecting isolated communities, where people might otherwise struggle to get to the shops, see a doctor, or simply visit friends and family."

Mr Jones said the government's decision to devolve the Bus Service Operators Grant for tendered services to local authorities was to give those authorities more say over how that funding should be used to support bus services in their area.

This had worked well, he claimed. But the government was doing more.

"As part of the government's devolution plans, individual areas will be able to negotiate deals with government to provide them with greater influence over their local areas, including bus services."

The government had signed groundbreaking deals with Greater Manchester, Cornwall, and now Sheffield, providing them with powers to franchise their bus services, said Mr Jones.

But franchising was not the only thing on the table.

"We also have real ambitions to improve public transport in areas that do not wish to pursue re-regulation of the bus network.

"That is why we are developing a package of new measures to encourage local authorities and bus operators to work in closer partnership."

Mr Jones said partnerships would help deliver improvements such as multi-operator ticketing and changes to the bus network that would otherwise only be possible under a franchised model.

"We will legislate to ensure these ambitions become a reality, through a Buses Bill that will be introduced later in the first session of Parliament."

"This will provide powers for local transport authorities to franchise their local bus services, subject to agreement from government, and give all transport authorities access to new partnership powers."

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