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Opinion

How radical solutions can transform Wales’ transport networks

11 Dec 2023 4 minute read
Photo by KK70088 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Chris Evans

We are now 40 years on from the Westminster imposed Transport Act of 1985 which deregulated bus services in the UK.

The intervening years have led to an utter failure in service provision for all bus users, almost 80% of whom have no access to a car. They are also damaging Wales’ potential as an ecotourism destination.

As we look for radical solutions to deal with the climate emergency, public transport must be seen as a viable alternative to the current car-first thinking that has been forced on Welsh society.

The privatised public transport network which provide services mainly to shareholders rather than service users is simply not fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Over recent years, and particularly the last few months, both rural and urban bus services are being slashed as funds from the Welsh Government Bus Transition Fund are reduced.

Public ownership

This is the exact opposite of what is needed, an expansion and overhaul of public transport to bring it back into public ownership.

Any successful public transport system needs three key ingredients. These are regularity, reliability, and affordability.

If we want people to transition from private car use to public transport, they need to know that even if they miss one bus, the wait for the next one will be short.

The optimal number is every 15 minutes, ensuring that people can get where they need to be on time. Even if they miss one service, the next will be along soon.

People need to know a service will turn up, and crucially that it will go to where they need to get to. This means services running to where people work, where people shop, and where people spend their free time. This will help drive local economies at the same time as ensuring a lower carbon footprint and better air quality, which also saves money and pressure on the NHS.

At a recent Scrutiny meeting on Ecotourism on Swansea Council, I pointed out that it was impossible to get a bus to Rhosilli before 9am for a Gower Walking Festival walk to Mumbles.

This forced people to use cars for three separate journeys, one to Rhosilli, a lift back at the end of the walk, and then another to get home afterwards!! How many needless car journeys are added each year for people wanting to explore Bannau Brycheiniog, the Elan Valley or Pembrokeshire Coast because public transport alternatives to our major tourist destinations are not fit for purpose?

How can we promote Wales as an ecotourism destination when our failing public transport system forces people into their cars?

Affordability

The final key ingredient is affordability. People need to be able to afford to get to work, to the shops, or to leisure destinations. In Italy, I was able to get a single ticket from Venice to Rome for seventeen Euros. That would get me from Mumbles to Swansea University on just three consecutive days in Wales.

The most poor and vulnerable in our society might live within five miles of Gower’s beaches, but never go there as they can’t afford to. A £1 all day ticket would revolutionise public transport and allow people to make every journey they need on the bus, whether it be getting to work, doing the weekly shop, or enjoying the sights of this incredible land of ours.

The elephant in the room here is of course cost. How can we afford such a transformation?

There are a number of solutions available. First, the resultant improvements in air quality and access to leisure opportunities will provide savings on health costs. Poor air quality is a huge killer and also leads to many chronic and debilitating conditions costing the NHS billions.

Secondly, a future Labour government in Westminster must right a historic wrong and designate HS2, CrossRail and Northern Powerhouse as England only projects.

I call upon Kier Starmer’s Labour to give Wales back the billions it is owed in Barnett consequentials from these projects to not only transform Welsh transport networks but also have enough left over to build the much needed Carmarthen to Bangor rail line.

Finally, by closing tax loopholes and taxing those that can afford it at the correct levels, we can raise billions to create a better society that has  true choice. It is time to stop giving millionaires tax cuts and instead to start investing in our future.

Chris Evans is a Green Party councillor for Mayals ward in Swansea.


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Rob
Rob
2 months ago

There are thousands upon thousands of people who have been encouraged to move to the deep countryside by car primacy. These people will not accept two buses a day from Abergwesyn to Llanwrtyd or Lanymddyfri and back (to pick an example at random), and any more than that figure would never be sustainable. We need to find a fair solution to this.

Steve George
Steve George
2 months ago

This article is spot on when it comes to buses. What it doesn’t address is why we’re spending nearly all the available Welsh money on the least flexible and least used form of public transport in Wales – rail? It’s a metropolitan obsession, when the same money invested in improving bus services could do far more good. In the same way, the decision to introduce a default 20mph speed limit (much as I think it’s a good thing) can only be viewed as a distraction, and a waste of resources both in terms of political capital and the £millions that… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve George

Steve, you have a valid point.
Improving our bus services will have better environmental effect in the shorter term and be better value for the little money we are allowed from Westminster.

The use of electric buses on the TrawsCymru T1 service has been a great success bring a weekend hourly daytime bus service between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth.

This could be extended to the T5 and the T2 services also in West Wales.

We should move away from the UK model of bus deregulation towards network franchising.

Robert
2 months ago

Rail has to be improved, but in many cases it’s still better than the busses. Aberdare to Bargoed by bus is 2 and half hours. It would be quicker to take the train via Cardiff, only 2 hours! It’s just an example of course, but there have to be improvements made and I think rail should get the priority. I’d like to see less on the road, no roads would be idea. People could travel by tram, underground and rail if the investment was there. If there was a more radical will by government.

Roderich Heier
Roderich Heier
2 months ago
Reply to  Robert

What’s the route from Aberdare to Bargoed by bus? Aberdare to Abercynon, then Ystrad Mynach via Nelson, then on to Bargoed, or is it Head of the Valleys across to Rhymney then down to Bargoed?

Ap Kenneth
2 months ago

I think it is likely that buses are going to face a funding shortfall for the next couple of years at least since huge amounts are being spent on upgrading the heads of the valleys road, A465 between Hirwaun and Dowlais Top and also the South Wales Metro.The Senedd does not have the funds available due to Westminster deliberately starving the Senedd of funds to fund projects in England. But buses are the sector that needs the most attention, electrify the buses, cutting fuel and maintenance costs, nationalise buses and have municipal companies, so that profit does not leak from… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
2 months ago

Cardiff Bus is owned by Cardiff Council and it provides a dreadful service. Its expensive, unreliable and infrequent. In many areas of Cardiff its impossible to work and travel by bus, hence the gridlocked roads. People have to use the car. Frustrating

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