Battling to bring buses back

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

BUSES – or a lack of them – are an issue wherever you go, with the possible exception of London where all communities are well served with regular services and clean modern vehicles.

Here in Torbay for the most part we also have a regular service and clean modern vehicles serving the busy commuter routes between the three main towns of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay.

But you do not have to veer far from that main coastal route and the services become less regular, served by smaller older vehicles – if they are served at all.

So many communities that were once on regular bus routes are becoming virtually cut off with services that run seldom, to very few places or only at certain times of the day.

Torbay is not alone in seeing non-profitable services being axed, the same is being seen all over the country, particularly in less populated urban areas. More Rural areas are particularly badly hit, but here we have one very large additional problem – a much larger than average ageing population that needs buses to get around.

Which brings us to an interesting conundrum – surely if there are lots of older people all wanting to get around on the bus rather than continuing to use their cars, then surely it is a win win (with benefits for the environment thrown in as a bonus)?

Only it isn’t.

Here in the Bay where we have an ageing population which by 2020 is expected to make up just short of 50% of the population– and we have some vicious hills meaning the older you are, the more likely you are to need public transport to get out and about.

When people moved to that lovely house overlooking the beauty of the Bay years  ago, they still had access to the car, their limbs were working just fine thank you – and ironically there was probably also a subsidised bus service running up if not down their road, past the end of it.

But all that has changed – there are virtually no bus subsidies available and nearly  all the regular bus services are run by private companies that have to return a healthy profit for their shareholders and that means each service is evaluated carefully and axed if it loses money.

From an individual’s point of view, the car that was the pride and joy has now gone – either on affordability or health grounds and those limbs that powered them up and down hills no problem are not what they were.

But no worries, along with the pension comes a bus pass that provides free rides where ever you want to go. In theory.

Local councils are expected to pay for the subsidised bus services, and they do, but Government spending cuts have meant that they cannot afford to reimburse the bus companies the full commercial value of the journey.

And so we are back to the same problem, the subsidy isn’t enough to make the service profitable, so the service that is a lifeline to so many is therefore cut. Would-be passengers are left clutching a bus pass that they can’t use because they can’t get to the profitable services in the first place.

It is a problem being faced by communities all over the country and we at Ageing Well Torbay and the Torbay Community Development come across the issues that result on a daily basis – people become stranded, and ultimately lonely and isolated.

Which is why on Saturday I (see picture above) and a dozen other people took to the water in a variety of craft to Race Across Torbay on Saturday to raise money for community transport.

We are hoping, in the absence of money from other sources, that we can raise enough to get community bus services restarted in the areas that need them most and it is an expensive prospect.

They are needed in every town in the Bay, particularly in the hilly areas. They are needed to get to hospital appointments, to medical consultations, to do the shopping and the socialise. They are essential.

To many people taxis are an unaffordable luxury – it doesn’t take long to rack up a fare of £5 and a return journey is therefore seldom under a tenner.

Concessionary bus passes for older people and disabled people were recognised as essential many years ago, but for some, they are no longer worth the paper they are printed on.

A pass that cannot be used is a pass to nowhere. At Torbay Community Development Trust and at Ageing Well Torbay we recognise that and are campaigning to get others to recognise it too.

Donations towards the restoration of several local bus routes can still be made on until the end of September.