How radical solutions can transform Wales’ transport networks
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.
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?
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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