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Opinion

If the Welsh Govt want less people in cars, they must make upgrading public transport their priority

09 Oct 2023 7 minute read
Image: Welsh Conservatives.

Emily Price

Whilst the Welsh Conservatives claim to be leading the fight against the Welsh Government’s “war on motorists” they seem to have completely forgotten about the battle being faced by people reliant on public transport.

The 2021 Census showed that 19% of the population of Wales have no access to a car or van, and many people have no choice but to get about using the county’s unpredictable bus and rail network.

The Welsh Government claims it wants to “encourage more people to stop using their cars”. This statement in itself seems bizarre given that Wales has a public transport system that is utterly broken and ridiculously expensive.

As it stands, why would road users voluntarily give up the convenience of their vehicles to stand in the rain waiting for a bus that won’t show up?

Some people have assumed that as I’m epileptic, I’m in support of the new 20mph default speed limit because I will never be legally allowed to drive a car.

But that’s not strictly true, I believe appropriate public transport and better active travel routes should have been put in place before any alterations to speed limits were even considered in Wales.

In short, if the Welsh Government want less people in cars, they absolutely must make upgrading public transport their priority.

This weekend, the Tories travelled around the country with a giant advertisement van claiming to be on the side of motorists.

But all the party really achieved with their ill thought out stunt was to create an utter nuisance of themselves as they posed with Cheshire cat grins in areas reserved for pedestrians. 

Graveyard

In one photo opportunity, the vehicle which proclaimed, “20mph isn’t working” was pictured on a pavement outside the entrance of a graveyard. In another image the van had been parked across three spaces in a car park.

There was uproar on social media as disgruntled pram users, wheelchair users and people with guide dogs took to the comments section to brand the party ‘selfish’.

All the Tories really demonstrated this weekend was that they’re the type of inconsiderate motorists who want to make life easier for themselves regardless of the impact it has on the less able bodied.

Instead of creating obstructions with their ridiculous van, the Welsh Tories could instead use their time as the opposition to address the absolute cock up that is Wales’ public transport system.

As a woman with epilepsy, I am entirely reliant on public transport and since my diagnosis eight years ago, I’ve found it more and more difficult to get about.

Journalistic opportunities have slipped from my grasp with trains that don’t show up and buses routes that are cancelled. I’m often left feeling embarrassed and desperate as I try to explain to event organisers why I can’t attend.

I live in Merthyr Tydfil. A part  of Wales with a public transport system that is notoriously terrible.

There are no public transport routes to my child’s school. Only two trains an hour into town (if they run) and the bus services are run by a company constantly in need of new drivers.

The school bus route that provides no buses with shelters left abandoned.

Worst parents

On the school run, there is a long road full of what were once brand new bus stops dotted along the stretch every 200 meters or so.

The route passes along a new road over what was once Merthyr Vale Colliery. School buses had only been using the road for a few short months before the Covid-19 pandemic saw schools close.

Even though lockdowns are now far behind us, the bus route never reopened and the once shiny new bus stops now stand abandoned and laden with green moss.

The walk to the school is long, over a mile each way. On rainy days it’s hard. Over the years, myself and other parents have walked through named storms and weather warnings to pick up our children.

It’s horrific having to tramp down the long stretch, soaked to the bone whilst gripping flimsy umbrellas against the wind and clutching our children feeling like the worst parents in the world.

This week I was invited to take part in a charity event in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. Brilliant I thought. I can get the train. Nice and simple and straight through to where I need to be.

On Sunday morning I passed my local train station and saw the entrance had been completely fenced off preventing any access to the public.

The local train station closed yet again.

Foolish

There was no sign explaining why. Just another glaring reason for me to feel foolish when I have to explain that I can’t attend an event I had already confirmed I would be arriving at.

I frantically checked the train times on my phone and saw all the trains to Cardiff next week had been cancelled whilst more work is carried out on the South Wales Metro.

A bus wouldn’t be an option for me because the the route to Cardiff through my village was cancelled around a year ago and taxi’s never arrive when I book them because my home is off the beaten track.

Since work on the South Wales Metro got underway, villages like mine have been completely cut off and forgotten.

I’ve heard Welsh Government ministers say, “It will be better when it’s all finished” but these kind of statements are just made to palm off those directly impacted by the building of the new line.

In Merthyr Tydfil, we have been relentlessly effected by the constant train cancellations and sleepless nights as engineers crash and bang in the darkness whilst their chainsaws hack down trees that have stood alongside the track since long before I was a child

Transport for Wales (TfW) does provide rail replacement buses. But the elusive creatures are usually either too late or too early.

They are also either too small to carry more than eight passengers or too large to fit down some roads and the drivers often don’t know the area and take wrong turns to dead ends or narrow streets.

For those without a car, a TfW rail replacement bus is a game of Russian roulette which either sees you late for work or not arriving at all.

If a passenger does manage to hook a rare rail replacement bus, they are sometimes forced to sit on the floor of the vehicle because there are not enough seats.

I’ve even seen one young passenger squeezed into stairwell of a tiny minibus which had been sent to pick up a train load of people but only had room for ten.

Last week as I passed the train station I saw a rail replacement bus which had done the unimaginable and actually shown up on time.

The vehicle was small and I noticed the inside was filling up with a thick acrid smog as the driver happily smoked a roll up with his feet up on the dash.

The Welsh Tories have said they’re on the side of motorists. But what about the rest of us? What about the ones who can’t afford a car or the ones who have a disability which blocks them from holding a licence?

HS2

What about the people who want to be conscious of the environment or the ones who just aren’t confident enough to drive. What about the elderly?

In the village next to mine, the train station has been completely closed for months. What about the people who live there? Who is fighting for them?

Even the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters admitted Wales’ railway has been “pretty bleak for a while” and TfW often makes headlines for the operators poor record of cancellations and overcrowding.

Perhaps the Welsh Conservatives giant red van shouldn’t have read “20mph isn’t working”, but instead said: “Public transport in Wales isn’t working”.

Or maybe their weekend would have been better spent driving their advertisement van around London with a sign that read: “Where is Wales’ HS2 funding?”


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Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 months ago

I agree. Public transport in the UK is worse than any other country I have visited and I only ever use it if I have to, or if I am travelling into large cities because I don’t like city driving. (I’ll drive in Cardiff and Swansea, but in scale terms these are really just large towns). Even were you willing to use public transport, it’s nearly impossible to travel between some towns in North Wales even if they are only about 20 miles apart. As regards the 20mph system for those of us who drive? It’s quite straightforward really. I… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Sarah Good
Robin Lynn
Robin Lynn
7 months ago

Interesting photograph. A van promoting a Tory message illegally parked on a footpath?

Dr Andrew Potts
Dr Andrew Potts
7 months ago
Reply to  Robin Lynn

Apparently the bill to bring in illegal pavement parking isn’t being considered until next year to allow councils to ‘cope’ with the 20mph law this year. A ban on pavement parking is a law I would vote for.

Karl
Karl
7 months ago

That parking in the pic sums up the Tories. They would have every pavement covered in cars. The article is right, public transport needs to be a focus. Definitely a decline in useable public transport in the last decade for me. Had the luck before not to have to plan a trip into Cardiff via bus or train from Ponty. Just pop down and wait less than 15 mins and bus prices were good, train were in the evenings. A world away from living in the Vale and a bus an hr. If public transport is going to make a… Read more »

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
7 months ago

How much did the lie van cost and who paid for it?

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

Yes we all know the value of tory statements written on the side of vehicles

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
7 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

Oh yes. £350m a week to the NHS which hasn’t and never was going to arrive and now ‘20mph isn’t working’ but only in Wales they reckon. It must be working in those Tory council areas that they’ve failed to mention.

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago

While we all recognise the need for better public transport, it is very discouraging to hear a Labour spokesperson say, that Labour, if elected will not commit to giving us our HS2 money. It would seem we are stuffed regardless of who is in power in Westminster. Only way to go is indy.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

Westminster does nothing for Wales, we are Englands back yard. Independence is the only answer as long as it comes with a complete change of politician. Those we have are not up to the job

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
7 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

Pretty much anything coming from English Labour is very discouraging, they’ve U turned on just about everything they can and Starmer has dropped every single thing he stood on during his leadership contest, If I was 30 years younger I would be looking to emigrate, The UK is F****d

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

This also begs the question to Mr Drakeford, what exactly does our ” insurance policy of being in the UK” actually give us, when his own party will not commit to correcting a wrong we can all clearly see. This policy seem the equivalent of, not fully comp, not even third party fire and theft but just the ” fire”.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 months ago

Public transport in Cardiff is equally as bad as Merthyr Tydfil. Cardiff Bus is expensive, unreliable and infrequent. It cannot be relied upon to get to work or to get to the shops. Little wonder the roads are jam packed with cars, most have no alternative.

Ap Kenneth
7 months ago

Even now in Wales too much is being stripped out of public transport as profit – TfW is publicly owned but all the new rolling stock is owned by a private rolling stock company who want to make a profit and have handsomely for 3 decades. Buses and companies such as Stage Coach and Arriva both owned by German companies and in the case of Arriva, Deutsche Bahn a German Government owned company are doing it to take profit back home. Public transport has to be a priority but publicly owned or owned locally to reduce the loss to the… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago

Whilst I agree with the thrust of the article, can Nation Cymru please ensure that the rules of English grammar are respected? ‘Less people’ is an excruciating construction, it should be ‘fewer people’. Also, Americanisms, such as ‘train station’ are irksome. We have railway stations in the UK.

Last edited 7 months ago by Padi Phillips
Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Forgive my ignorance. Is train station an Americanism? What should we be using? I honestly don’t know

Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
7 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

Place where chuff chuff stops, when they are not on strike or cancelled.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

As I wrote in my comment “We have railway stations in the UK.”

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

I honestly missed that last sentence. Weird i know. Thanks

Llyn
Llyn
7 months ago

Clearly public transport is bad/awful in Wales and needs to be improved. Having said that even if we had the best public transport system in the World, those who are most vociferous in their attacks on lowering the speed limit in residential areas and outside schools would be against it. Not all those against the 20mph default are bad drivers, but all bad drivers, selfish drivers, right-wing conspiracy theorists and boy racers are against the 20mph default.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

I think you’ll find the bad drivers you refer to wont follow the 20mph rule anymore than they follow the 30/50 or 70 mph rules.

Dr Andrew Potts
Dr Andrew Potts
7 months ago

Good article. One of the many things that concerns me about politics is opposition for the sake of it whilst missing the opportunity to make a positive contribution (credible alternative policies, etc). Worryingly, Labour aren’t committing to giving Wales its ‘fair share’ of HS2 funding so we’re screwed whoever gets in and wherever…

Erisian
Erisian
7 months ago

Fewer

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago

We in Wales are stuck between a rock and a hard place to use that well worn cliche. Both English Labour & Conservatives in London won’t fund any serious infrastructure projects in Wales unless it benefits England first i.e nuclear energy or opencast mining that blights Wales but benefits the national grid therefore England. They get all the benefits and we as a country & people remain on them. It’s called Universal Credit. Anyway, what about devolution I hear you cry? Welsh Labour could invest in our infrastructure? Yes they could but you have to have the will and the… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Welsh Labour has always been opposed to internal north south communications for Wales as they fear it will unify the country. There is a north/south divide in Wales and in places like Llandudno Cardiff might as well be New York (which can be reached in little more time than it takes to reach Cardiff). The psychological divide is huge. Even the A470, a highway that was cobbled together by a civil servant armed with a map piecing together our great north/south highway through the simple act of designating preexisting roads with a different number in response to Plaid Cymru taunts.… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

You are dead right about the north-south transport deficit. I thought the A470 predated Nick Edwards although the bit about being long-winded and round the houses is spot on. As for rail there is a great deal of sentimental attachment to the western corridor route linking Caerfyrddin to Aber once again. That could still be a good tourism track but for those who need to get some where sharpish you are correct to advocate something “straight up the middle”. Ah say those who can’t envisage such a development there’s big obstacles at different points. Show those obstacles to engineers who… Read more »

Kraag
Kraag
7 months ago

Most cars have the driver only in a large car because there is little alternative like small vehicles. Our bus and train services were ruined by Maggie and need taking back. We had long trains which were cheaper. Now people pay a high price to stand on a crammed carriage. As a disabled person public transport is impossible itself hard enough by car. We need innovation urgently.

Jjh
Jjh
7 months ago

You really believe that people are going to give up their convenient, clean personal transport, for dirty, late, inconvenient, strike ridden public transport?

You’re deluded…

Erisian
Erisian
7 months ago

FEWER.

cashcashcars
6 months ago

Our cars’ woes are left out in the cold of policy discussions! While the Welsh Conservatives rev their engines against the so-called “war on motorists,” they’ve seemingly forgotten about our fellow commuters who rely on public transport. The 2021 Census unveiled a startling truth – 19% of Wales’ population can’t even call a car their own. They navigate the labyrinth of buses and trains, facing unpredictable schedules. It’s high time policymakers revved up their focus on bolstering public transport. We cars might enjoy the open road, but a balanced approach is essential. After all, not everyone can rev up their… Read more »

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