Not in Service: Is the Welsh Government failing bus users?
I catch buses every day.
I catch a bus to get to work and take my son to school. I catch a bus to go to the shops or visit a local attraction. I catch a bus to meet a friend, to go to the cinema or to do some volunteering. Having access to good bus services is essential for me.
However, I have become increasingly frustrated with the way in which buses are not recognised for the essential service that they are.
That’s not to say they aren’t spoken about. When bus services are threatened with cuts, then they get some attention. When a Minister wishes to talk about more sustainable forms of transport, they will include references to buses in their strategies and boast about the amount of funding they are putting into the network.
Despite these warm words, action from various levels of government in Wales often leaves a lot to be desired.
Earlier this year, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, announced that funding for the Bus Emergency Scheme was coming to an end. He later announced a new package of money – the Bus Transition Fund. That didn’t stop 10% of services being axed over the summer, with more on the way.
The Deputy Minister, as well as the First Minister, in response to various questions asked by Members of the Senedd representing Labour, Plaid Cymru, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats referred to passenger numbers as one of the key challenges facing the bus service.
In short, passenger numbers have not recovered from the pandemic, leading to a reliance on funding that the Welsh Government can no longer afford.
Truth is, I agree with that completely.
That’s why I launched a petition in February that is still being worked on by the Petitions Committee, that didn’t just call for an extension of funding but also a national recovery plan for buses. I wanted this plan to be co-produced by Welsh Government, local authorities, bus operators and bus users, in order to bring people back onto buses and reduce reliance on emergency funding.
It’s also why years ago I asked my local authority to get involved with what was then called Catch the Bus Week. Year after year I wrote to the authority, to councillors, to MPs and MSs asking them to lend their support to campaigns to encourage bus patronage.
Year after year I was left disappointed.
Despite the recognised challenges and the steady stream of strategies suggesting public transport is prioritised, I am left disappointed again. September is Catch the Bus Month, and even though the Deputy Minister called for a campaign to encourage bus usage, he has sadly not uttered one word of support for the Catch the Bus campaign.
There is plenty of research out there that show the benefit of buses to the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of our communities, but I see it every day. I speak to my regular bus driver, I speak to other passengers who each have their own reasons for regularly getting the bus. Many of them have no alternative form of transport, and without the bus their lives would change enormously.
At the moment I feel that the Welsh Government, and politicians of all parties are not doing enough to deliver a more comprehensive and sustainable bus network. Soon Catch the Bus Month will be over and it’ll be too late for them to get involved, but it won’t be too late for them to get onboard and show real leadership.
Buses are in crisis. As a bus user, I just want to ask those in positions of responsibility – are you going to help?
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