Rural communities are being left isolated because councils have been forced to reduce bus services, new figures reveal – but is this an opportunity for closer more resilient communities?

By Nick Phillips, group chief executive, Community Impact Bucks

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Local authorities have been forced to reduce bus services by more than 12% in the last year alone, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).

This has left thousands of rural people isolated, says the LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales.

In the past financial year, the distance travelled by council-supported bus services outside London has dropped from 165 to 144 million miles – a fall of 12.3%.

The picture over the past decade is similarly bleak.

Council-supported bus services in rural areas have reduced by 40% – by 71 million bus miles from 178 million miles to107 million miles.

Councils have seen a 40% reduction in their core funding in the previous Parliament and are continuing to experience funding pressures.

I am not a ‘glass half empty’ person but when I see cuts in services that support rural communities it is easy to feel that the rural communities are getting a rum deal. Buses aren’t just about a trip to the shops for some elderly people, they also are about getting to a doctor’s or hospital appointment as with a ‘home to health’ service.

But, and there is a but, there may be a slither of a silver lining. I have seen that community car schemes have brought generations together in communities where isolation is a big issue. These haddenham-community-vehicleschemes, however good, will never replace a 1950’s red bus scheme but there are advantages. They offer a flexible approach to meet a community-driven need. We have helped set up community transport schemes in all shapes and sizes from a simple telephone cascade system for anyone offering or wanting a lift, to the ‘home to health’ model. The result is often that those who are driving, usually one person to a car, can give a lift to elderly people they would normally not have known. There are examples of small villages becoming much closer as a result.

So whilst the loss of a bus service is never a good thing for those that have come to rely on it there may be the chance of stronger village communities. If you would like to find out more about community transport schemes and the support Community Impact Bucks can provide to help with their set up, please give Debi Game in our projects team a call on 0300 111 1250.

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