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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Labour threaten local bus services

The BBC report that the potential loss of Covid bus grants in a few months time has sparked fears of large scale cuts to services across Wales.

They say that fears about the impact of these cuts are so great that two Labour Council leaders have come out into the open to criticise their party colleagues in the Welsh Government in a letter, saying that cuts to bus services could be "devastating" for groups that rely on public transport:

The letter to First Minister Mark Drakeford raised concern about the recent roads review that scrapped all major road building projects, plans for the 20mph default speed limit in urban areas and pavement parking fines.

Leaked to BBC Wales, the document also criticised the "tone" adopted in meetings by the man in charge of the policies, Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters.


The letter said Wales' 22 council leaders want an "urgent" meeting with Mark Drakeford, and argued bus services are a "life-line" for older people, young people, people with disabilities and low income households.

"Loss of bus services is potentially devastating for these groups, impacting on their well-being by restricting access to educational, economic, health and leisure services and to family and social contacts," it said.

They accused the Welsh government of "cart-before-horse planning" for public transport, and called for ways to be found to make Covid bus emergency cash permanent to protect services.

"Whilst passenger numbers have not recovered post-Covid, they never will if services start to be cut across Wales," the WLGA leaders wrote.

Rural council leaders are worried there could be more areas with no public transport services.

"Attempts to attract businesses to rural areas to create local sources of employment and reduce the need to travel are felt to be at risk if vital highway improvements and access routes are effectively ruled out and public transport options are not available," the letter said.

Despite the pandemic easing, bus firms are reliant on Covid aid because passenger numbers have not fully recovered.

Earlier this year it was extended, but only for three months to June.

On Wednesday Mr Waters told the Senedd the government was trying to find a way to bridge the gap between the end of the scheme and plans to reform bus regulation.

"The money simply isn't there to keep all the current services running," he said.

He said "in the face of the continued austerity budget that we have" from the UK government "we simply do not have the resources available to continue funding the emergency subsidy at the rate that we have".

The WLGA letter also appeared to contradict claims by the roads review chairwoman Lynn Sloman that the exercise conducted "considerable engagement".

The leaders said there had been "very limited contact" with council leaders and only after the review had reached its conclusions.

"Local communities that will be affected by the decisions were given no opportunity to input from their lived experiences," the pair wrote.

Meanwhile councils were said to be struggling with the "sheer volume of transport-related issues", the WLGA leaders wrote, with lots of projects being taken forward at the same time, including pavement parking.

The 20mph default speed limit, due to be introduced in September, "will lengthen some home to school journey times" and add to school transport operator costs, the WLGA argued.

"Taken together, one leader described the situation as a 'perfect storm' for communities," the letter said.

"Another referred to the current approach as 'all stick and no carrot'."

Referring to Mr Waters, it added: "Whilst we have been grateful to the deputy minister for his readiness to engage with leaders and transport cabinet members on these issues, members have been concerned about the nature of the debate and tone of the meetings.

"Leaders stressed the importance of mutual respect in our discussions," it added.

The letter said the current set of highways and transport policies "are all well-intentioned and laudable in their own right, but we feel there is a better way to approach them".

"Leaders' general feeling was that they are being handed down to councils rather than being developed with us."

Time for a rethink by Welsh Ministers.
If bus services only had single deck buses they would not cost as much as a double decker and be able to hold a fuller load of passengers.More economic.It could develop a regular bus service due to fuller buses leading to more passenger funding (fares).This would lead to more employment for bus drivers and if only using electric buses be good for the environment.
As I understand it, the cost of running a double-decker is not markedly greater than that for a single-decker. However, as Nigel has intimated, they are only more cost-effective in high traffic areas. You will therefore not see many in Wales outside Cardiff and Newport.

It has still not dawned on our law-makers how much young job-seekers and workers depend on public transport. It benefits us oldies too, by getting us out into the fresh air and maintaining our social links. There must be some saving for the health service there. But what is the good of an All-Wales bus pass if there are few routes to use it on?
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