By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
BUS services in the Bay are fabulous if you want to go between the main towns, but try to get to the outlying areas or up the hills, then you will struggle.
Time and again through both Torbay Community Development Trust and Ageing Well Torbay we come up against the issues that a restricted bus service represents, and it affects old and young alike.
On the one hand, we are fighting climate change, but on the other, we have to rely on our cars to get from A to B and not having a car in the Bay can often mean loneliness and social isolation.
At one end of the spectrum young people can’t drive because of their age and rely on the buses to get out and socialise. At the other, older people have given up their cars and rely on buses for shopping and socialising.
It is not a problem that is unique to the Bay – it is a nationwide problem that affects just about every area, other than the bigger cities (as long as you don’t want to travel outside them).
Talking to other lottery-funded Ageing Well projects around the country one issue that they come up against time and again is the lack of an integrated bus service that serves all areas.
Commercial bus services do what they do very well – they provide services where they are profitable and thereby stay in business and provide funds for their shareholders, but they cannot be expected to run services that lose money.
Subsidies are one answer, but hard-pressed austerity-hit local government departments have been chipping away at the funds available to such an extent that very few are now available.
Older people across the country have bus passes for free bus travel, but have very few places, other than the main routes, that they can use them. A bus pass without a bus is worthless.
Young people have concessionary fares to allow them to travel, but again a concessionary fare without a bus to use it on, is meaningless.
Increasingly old and young people are unable to get where they want to go and that means they are increasingly isolated – not able to socialise and for poorer parts of our community it means mounting costs.
If you do not have access to a car, and cannot afford a taxi, it means you can’t get to the larger supermarkets and often cheaper, out of town shopping areas, pushing up your cost of living.
Reliance on poor bus services also means it can be difficult to access health appointments in hospitals and clinics some distance from home.
Charities do step in where they can, but it is a huge burden on volunteers and charitable funds, and is not sustainable as we know to our cost at TCDT with the OurBus project that ran services until last November, when they were withdrawn because of mounting losses.
However, here in the Bay we have not given up and recently relaunched one of the OurBus services using a subscription based system that we believe to be unique, and it is early days, but we are optimistic.
Fifty users of the 61 service (formerly no 60) which runs from Livermead to Torquay via St Lukes are paying between £6.50 and £3.50 a week to keep the service running with volunteer bus drivers.
The service is running from 9.15 am until 4.15 pm, with seven services on three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday and users are delighted:
“The 12 months the bus did not run was absolutely dreadful, “ said one: “For some people it is a lifeline and might be their only opportunity to get out and about.
“I was on the bus the other day and there were just four of us, but we all knew each other and sat chatting. To some of them it might be the only time they get to speak to anyone”, she added
And that in a nutshell is why keeping buses running in communities is crucial. It isn’t about the profit, it is about so much more. Bus services are not just about getting from A to B, they are about the people that otherwise might not get out at all, might not be able to get to their health appointments, and might not be able to meet others.
Bus services achieve so much more than merely going from one place to another. They are about the people that use them and the wellbeing of the people that use them.