The social value of accessible transport

By Mike Norton, Finance and Business Advice Manager

While channel hopping the other evening, I landed on a reality TV style programme on ITV called “100 year old driving school”.

Not a programme that I would normally choose to watch, however I was drawn in by the content. UK Driving licences are valid until the age of 70, beyond the age of 70, motorists have to re-apply for their licences every 3 years by post with no requirement to re-test their standard of driving.

The programme is based around the fact that there are more than 200 drivers on UK roads over the age of 100. The programme looked at drivers in their 90s and 100s who are prepared to undertake a driving assessment by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

Following the drive, the RoSPA assessor shares their findings with the driver and concerned relatives. The in-car camera highlights any faults witnessed during the drive and the assessment of whether the driver is safe to be on the roads. For me, the message that comes through clearly in all cases whether the driver has had a good or bad assessment, is the importance of being able to drive and the freedom it gives them.

Of course, for many people there are alternatives to the car available in the form of public transport. In England you can apply for an older person’s bus pass when you reach the female State Pension age, whether you are a man or a woman (different rules apply in other parts of the UK). These passes are valid after 9:30 a.m. each morning and are extremely well used, however commercial bus operators cut routes when they become unviable, leaving many older people with few cost-effective options for getting out and about.

There has been much research into loneliness and isolation in the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly one third of older people, and half of the over-80s say they are sometimes lonely. Loneliness can lead to depression, anxiety, and mental decline, as well as increased levels of drinking and smoking. Tackling the effects of loneliness increases the demands for health and social care and this has a significant cost implication to the organisations that deliver these services.

The Torbay Community Development Trust (TCDT) through the Ageing Well Torbay programme, recognises the social impacts of loneliness and isolation to local communities. It is now almost a year since the popular 60 bus route was cut by the previous operator. When no other commercial operator was prepared to take the route on, the TCDT launched its Ourbus community transport operation. The 60 route has proved popular and runs from Monday to Saturdays. Some describe the 60 bus as more than a transport service to get from A to B and being more akin to a mobile community centre.

We have just started our second timetabled bus service based on the 65 route that was stopped a year ago. This has been made possible by a capital grant from Torbay Council to be used towards the purchase of buses for the routes. The 65 route will run from Monday to Saturdays. Re-instating the 65 route will be challenging after having lapsed for 12 months however there is great enthusiasm from residents along the route so we hope that it will be well supported. We are working on plans for a “dial-a-ride” type service linking Brixham and Torbay hospital.

No one should under-estimate the value that having access to transport has to an individual in reducing loneliness and social isolation and the consequential financial savings to the health and social care sector. Whether the access to transport is having a driving licence to use a car or the availability of public transport, both are hugely cherished by the individual and potentially life-changing to that individual when no longer available.

More information on OurBus services can be found on our website at www.torbaycdt.org.uk . You can also find out more by emailing our Community Transport Team on communitytransport@torbaycdt.org.uk or by calling 01803 212638.

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