Why the failure to provide proper public transport is harming rural Wales
Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru MS
To many, living in the countryside offers a form of simple idyll – surrounded by nature, a slower pace of life, and beautiful scenery.
Indeed country living does off this and much more besides. I love living in the country, it’s where I grew up, and it’s where I am raising my family.
But country living comes with its own cost. Life in the country is not some sort of mix of The Good Life and James Heriot. We’ve got problems, major problems in rural Wales. There are multiple crises ravaging the countryside.
And it’s being ignored by governments in Cardiff and London. We’re desperate for help. This is a plea to please help us.
One third of children in rural communities live in poverty, our young are dying in their hundreds to suicide as an ignored mental health crises devastates a generation, and our elderly are isolated and slowly dying alone.
Since 2010-11 there has been a net reduction of £10 million from supported bus services in Wales, a reduction of 39%.
One elderly woman I know lives in a village of a thousand people, that’s a big place for this area. But this village has one shop, with a limited range of goods and certainly more expensive then any supermarkets that people in towns or cities take for granted and that’s it. There are no GPs, there is no post office, no pharmacy, no library, no leisure centre. But just six miles away there is a town that has all of that.
So great, you may think, she can just pop to town and everything she needs is there.
Now here is a word I will use a lot in this piece and that is but, and the but in this case is that like so many people of her age she has cataracts, she can’t drive. Her children who she raised in the village went to the local primary school, then they went to the secondary school and then they went to university all in Wales.
I’m pleased to say that those children are raising happy families and enjoy successful careers, but to do that they had to move away, they wanted to come back to the village where they grew up but there were no houses, not any they could afford anyway.
So this elderly woman now has to rely on buses, the only form of public transport, there are no taxis in the area.
But she has to get to the bus, the nearest bus stop is nearly a kilometre away, this is something she finds very difficult and buses are a rare commodity anyway in these parts. So she ends up relying on her neighbours for help.
Another case I have dealt with is that of a teenage college student.
In order for them to study the course they wanted they have to travel 110 miles every day they have to go to college. As they are a teenager, they have to make this trip by bus.
That means catching a bus from their village to the nearest town, a journey of 45 minutes. Then they wait 45 minutes for a bus to the college, which is a trip that can take well over an hour. Imagine how tired that student is just by the time they get to their first class.
Now think, what do these stresses do to people’s health, both mental and physical.
How many people are denied opportunities because of poor transportation? This is a problem that stops older people getting the health care they need, young people getting the education they deserve and the jobs they want.
Last summer my staff surveyed local hospitality businesses to see how they were coping with the recruitment crisis in the industry.
91.6% reported that they have had staffing issues since re-opening, 83.3% said they have had difficulty recruiting staff since re-opening, 75% responded that the biggest issue facing them was a lack of public transport to get their staff to and from work.
Finally, the excellent charity GISDA surveyed young people in Gwynedd regarding mental health and one of the biggest challenges facing the mental wellbeing of our young people was access to mental health services, and indeed other essential services. This is because most services are based in the larger urban areas which require transport.
So, while we are rightly proud in Wales of Aneurin Bevan’s political philosophy providing health services free at the point of delivery, the sad truth is that for many this is just a distant dream, because either they cannot access that service, or must pay through the nose for transport in order to access that service.
This is a problem that is now so commonplace that it is almost written into the DNA of rural communities. It’s just another burden that makes up part of the premium we must pay to live in the countryside.
But we should not have to settle for this situation.
Rural life is vital to every country. We’re not places to be visited in the summer and forgotten about in the winter.
We’re not here to provide some sort of Good Life fantasy to stressed out wealthy people who want a second home, fresh air and stunning scenery.
Given all of the obstacles and difficulties it is remarkable that rural communities cope as well as they do.
But it’s time for those in charge, stop ignoring us, take action and give us the same standards of service you would expect for everybody else.
That is why today James Evans MS, I and other Senedd colleagues will be holding a debate in the Senedd on the future of public transport in rural areas.
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One more twist on this. When the (UK) government Department of Work and Pensions are considering a person’s eligibility for disability benefits, and as a preliminary to any face-to-face assessment by the government team, they send to the citizen’s GP a form requesting a brief report on his/her medical condition. Fine and sensible. But: towards the end of the form comes a question: “Could this person travel to the assessment centre by public transport?” Apparently sensible: a question which seems to want to distinguish between someone who is housebound and someone who “simply” doesn’t have access to a private vehicle.… Read more »
A national bus company, subsidised if needed, could run those small Mercedes buses I have seen in the country areas in Scandia. But no free passes please, as this has contributed to bus decline.
It’s not just harming rural Wales, it’s harming the environment too.
Only populous areas can run frequent services without making a ‘loss’ but I don’t think that ‘loss’ is being measured in a sufficiently meaningful way.
Years ago when I was working and living in the north of Powys there were Post Buses, a Sherpa mini-bus, postman driven with 8 seats in the back. They would visit all the small villages off the beaten track like Pont Robert and Llanraeadr-ym-Mochnant etc. They were a daily life-line…keep up the good work Mabon…