Rural bus services are “largely” not fit for purpose with councils needing extra funding to improve transport connectivity, according to Dorset Council’s bus portfolio holder responsible for buses.
Councilor Ray Bryan, who is responsible for highways, travel and the environment, made the claim for funding at a Transport Select Committee hearing on rural connectivity.
The responsibility for providing quality and reliable services has fallen to local government, but often, local authorities “don’t have the money” to reach rural communities regularly, Premier Bryan said.
Chris Lowder, MP for West Dorset and a member of the select committee, asked “the extent to which bus services in rural England are not really fit for purpose”.
Counselor Brian said: “I think it sums it up in one word – big. It largely is. I think that for several years now we have seen the decrease in available services and it is only because of money.”
In recent months a number of bus services have faced cuts to their service levels, with the 206 from Weymouth to Wyke Regis suspended, while the 6 from Bridport to Yeovil and the 378 between Seaton and Lyme Regis have reduced service levels.
Dorset Council will investigate a ‘demand-responsive transport’ service for rural areas, Rep Bryan said, which would see residents “literally dial a bus to get to your house” in “real rural areas where it wouldn’t be worth running a normal bus”.
He told the committee: “I’m here not only representing the area of Dorset but there are many rural areas across the country that suffer from the same problem and that is underfunding of the UK’s public transport network.
“Everyone associates Dorset as a very wealthy area, but we have some very deprived areas and one of the problems we have is that they are all spread so far apart.”
Premier Bryan praised the introduction of the Government’s Bus Service Improvement Policy (BSIP) as bringing stakeholders ‘around the table’ to improve the service, but warned that funding was needed to make the plans a reality.
He said: “The only good thing that has come out of the BSIP is that we are now talking to all the bus operators and other stakeholders about plans for the future. The difficulty is that the plans for the future require funding and until we get to that stage most of the plans we have will remain in place as plans.
“I committed to make sure that in everything we do, in public transportation, I will fulfill some of the promises I made, but I need help.”