On the buses
One of the best aspects of our role in the Local Advocacy team at SEC Newgate is the opportunity to get out and about meeting communities around the country.
In the nearly 15 years in which I’ve worked in Planning Comms and Local Engagement, my projects have taken me all the way from Honiton to Hull, from Lancashire to Lewes and pretty much everywhere in between.
My personal preference is aways to travel to places by public transport. This isn’t just from a sustainability perspective (and supporting our new B Corp status) but mainly for speed, reliability and the chance to get work done as I travel. However, very often, you find the towns and villages you travel to have no reliable form of public transport, requiring you to either take the car or rely on a costly local taxi firm.
The lack of public transport is then something which is brought up during conversations with communities, often in the context of why new housing will impact negatively on local roads. In many ways, it’s hard to disagree. Communities which may be served by three or four unreliable buses a day, are not going to believe that future residents won’t resort to using their cars, particularly in villages without shops or services. The scarcity of the public transport options that do (in theory) exist means that residents cannot rely on a bus being where it says it should be at the time it says it should be there.
This week, the Number 7A in South Cambridgeshire made headlines, over the news that it currently costs the tax payer £124 per passenger to run the service. The route, which runs four times per day in a loop between Duxford and Sawston, carried a total of 771 passengers in 2023, equating to just 0.03% of the people living nearby. In response to the issue, the directly elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Nick Johnson, is looking to raise a specific mayoral ‘bus tax’ increasing funding for services by around £11m.
Elsewhere in the country, the directly elected Mayor of South Yorkshire, Oliver Coppard is focusing on the same issue, calling on the Government to increase funding for bus routes across the whole of the county. The “Back Our Buses” campaign is being run in conjunction with The Sheffield Star and is seeking a “fairer deal” for funding of local bus routes. The DfT has responded by saying that South Yorkshire has already received “an extra £7.8m” to improve bus services through the reallocation of HS2 funding.
In many respects, the issue of improving local public transport options is a chicken and egg situation. Local communities argue that new residents will rely on cars due to the lack of public transport, while bus operators point to a lack of passengers to justify running costly routes.
As with other issues surrounding infrastructure improvements in this country, the responsibility for providing these services then falls to developers to solve. Many of our clients take a proactive and collaborative partnership with local bus operators to ensure that the services to their new developments are in place as early as possible in the planning process. These services will, in many cases, then continue to be funded for several years to allow the routes to become established and gain a customer base from both new and older residents and employees in an area.
The lesson here is simple. If you want communities (and PR Directors) to get out of their cars, provide good reliable public transport links underpinned by sound financial planning.
I’ll see you on the Number 7A!