“Last week, I was invited to speak at the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum policy conference which was exploring the topic of Beyond ‘smart cities’ - next steps for connected places policy and implementation in the UK.
“We all know that urban areas are ripe for investment in mobility connections. From NetZero buses to Boris Bikes, we’ve seen a wealth of new ideas implemented in our cities and larger towns. But for our rural communities, the sparse nature of our geography makes this harder and investment is slow, if at all. Or is it that the people in power just aren’t seeing it through the right lens?
I used my session, entitled Connected places across different geographies – delivery across rural and urban contexts, and developing a people-centred approach, to make a case for the latter argument.
I explained how rural councils are underfunded and services cost more to deliver to rural communities. In real terms that means that urban Councils in 2023/2024 budgeted to spend almost 7 times that of rural councils on public transport. Yet in rural areas, public transport is even more essential, as people must travel further for vital services.
Whilst we welcomed the government’s announcement regarding a new network of Net Zero buses in rural areas, simply adding more buses to the equation might not be the answer. Rural areas need solutions that meet their needs, which is likely to include a variety of options, for example, demand responsive transport.
Once again, we are waiting for the government to set out its vision for rural transport in its Future of Rural Mobility Strategy. It consulted on this in 2021 and the RSN put forward member’s thoughts but the strategy has not yet been published. The future of mobility: Urban Strategy was published in 2019.
I concluded my session by saying that we need to look at the big picture. Investing in transport options may mean that public spend in other areas is reduced. But this is a case of the government investing to save. If people can access employment and training, health services etc, the need for spend on benefits and social services may be reduced. And if the figures are not persuasive enough, perhaps it is time for ministers to talk to our isolated communities to truly understand what their life is like.”
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