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Let’s get young people on our buses

PUBLISHED: 14:36 13 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:36 13 July 2018

First bus. Picture: Edward Starr

First bus. Picture: Edward Starr

Edward Starr Photographer

Recently my inbox has been crammed with emails relating to local bus services.

In the main, worried users have been contacting my BBC Radio Norfolk Breakfast Show to voice concerns over rumours that various routes could be cut.

One email quoted an employee at Sanders Coaches who had revealed the well-respected North Norfolk company was reviewing parts of its rural services.

On further investigation we were told that Sanders, along with many other Norfolk companies, were experiencing pressures and this had put the viability of certain routes under the spotlight. A toxic combination of rocketing fuel prices, rising wages and falling subsidies are giving the bosses a headache.

Sanders Coaches have a wonderful reputation in Norfolk, are family run and wouldn’t take these tough decisions unless absolutely necessary.

Rural communities need to unite and highlight this issue to The Secretary Of State for Transport.

In Norfolk we have a shortfall in our budget, maybe the time has come for a national fund to be established to give bus companies operating in the countryside a boost?

Inner city services have a much greater demand.

Younger commuters contribute a higher fare, topping up the finance set aside to cover the free bus pass.

At a glance these routes appear more important, however it doesn’t mean our less well-used buses are any less vital.

By allowing the axe to swing, a major cut in services would be reminiscent of Dr Beeching’s scrapping of one third of the rail network in the 1960s.

Once again ‘village life’ is the victim.

By taking away public transport we inadvertently establish swathes of our countryside where the less wealthy, elderly and disabled struggle to live.

Villages quickly become the sole domain of the bourgeoisie, until they too need to move back into the city in later life.

So is it time to investigate whether everyone needs to contribute when boarding – including those currently covered by the free passes?

This might be controversial, however many callers to my programme wanted to pay a small fare if it safeguarded the service.

No surprise as for many the bus is a lifeline.

Isolation in Norfolk is a big issue.

For some it can turn the romantic countryside into an austere wilderness. Ill health, bereavement or disability, just a few reasons why people get ‘cut off.’

The bus their only escape. Village life without a car is already hugely challenging and if you take away public transport many would be forced to relocate.

The BBC reported earlier this year that Britain’s bus network has shrunk to levels last seen in the late 1980s.

134 million miles of coverage over the past decade alone have disappeared.

Some cut-off communities have taken to starting their own services. Thought a nice notion, it’s far fetched to expect each village has a voluntary Stan Butler or Jack Harper.

So will the youngsters save the day? Those without a free bus pass bemoan the already expensive fares.

For Sanders, that demographic makes up one third of their passengers.

If they want to increase fares to make a route more resilient, sustainable or profitable they have to disproportionally hit the younger traveller, which they feel is unfair. Additionally, if we don’t foster a new generation of bus users the long-term viability of the service will be called into question.

Local bus service operators have been quick to applaud Norfolk County Council. The local authority has worked tirelessly to protect services that find themselves under threat. We need a collective cry from our county requesting help from Westminster.

A countrywide solution is needed, but our county can lead the calls for a review.

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