The Department of Transport is considering Government reforms to community transport, including fixed-route buses, mobility scooters, door-to-door transport, lift-giving by volunteer car drivers, Dial-a-Ride and Dial-a-Bus. The independent Community Transport Association calls many of the Government’s proposals “unclear and unworkable”, while Labour and Co-Op MP Mark Wilkes has asked, “has the Government sided with the bus barons?”
Many of us in rural areas were cut off by the recent snowfall. But Shropshire faces £5 million in cuts to Highway maintenance and £556, 000 from the home-to-school budget. All 8 Labour Councillors voted against these cuts. Here, Michelle Wilkes, from Ditton Priors, describes the impact of the loss of transport on her community:
I live in Ditton Priors. We have one small local store, a pub and doctors’ surgery. Until 2013, we could travel to the market towns of Ludlow or Bridgnorth for employment, education, shopping, health appointments, opticians, leisure and further transport links. A bus service, Monday to Saturday, ran several times a day. In 2013 this was axed.
The elderly, young people and those on low wages have been worst hit. As a non- driver, I relied on bus travel to maintain employment. But without a car, I can’t access employment, training or the job centre. My daughter could not attend after-school clubs, GCSE revision sessions, or take part in her Duke of Edinburgh award.
Young people in our area must now attend a 'designated sixth form'. With no independent means of travelling to any other college or apprenticeship, choice and opportunity for young people have gone.
School holidays are spent at home. My children can’t meet friends or use the library, leisure centre and cinema. I worry about their socialising and safe mental health as their only means of maintaining friendships is through social media.
When axing the bus in our village, we were promised a 'safety net service' by Shropshire Council, for essential travel, like hospital appointments.
In November 2015, I could not attend my screening test for cancer as there was no available community transport in either Bridgnorth or Broseley. The 'safety net service' does not work and is too costly to the service user. In December, I had three hospital appointments... using community cars this would have cost £70.00. Pensioners are not exempt from such charges. There are no concessions, no bus pass.
I’ve written to Shropshire Council and MP Phillip Dunne, highlighting the impact of transport cuts, but to no avail.
An elderly man in our locality used the bus service to get a hot meal in Bridgnorth, everyday. He did not cook at home and survived his last days eating baby food, before dying alone. He lived some distance from the doctors’ surgery and I imagine could not pay for a community car to visit his GP.
There clearly is a 'gap in provision' for rural lives. Without access to a car we are trapped in the village, living restricted, lonely lives.
By Michelle Wilkes