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We need to empower people to be able to choose public transport

February 25, 2022 10:39 AM

Before I begin I want to apologise - I've sadly missed two of my articles this month due to the fact my father-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this month and then passed away last week after a short battle with it and covid. This has somewhat thrown my family and me off-kilter. I am determined to keep my promise though that I would share my transport choices this month and you will find this below the main article.

We need to empower people to be able to choose public transport

At least 10 years ago, a bus company locally used the slogan "bus travel - more affordable and convenient than you think". My husband and I always used to smile at that - "I'm sure it is" we would both say "because frankly, I think that it's expensive, a pain to use, unreliable and won't get me where I want to be". And that was truly our experience as my husband commuted to London and every day and, as there wasn't a bus that would get him from where we lived to the train station for the 7:10 train, I would get up and drive him there early in the morning every day with our two small children in the car. As for using it during the daytime, often there would be no space for my buggy or, by the time I'd paid for me and one child over 5, it was cheaper and easier to just drive into town and park.

I rarely use the bus now as I live in the town centre, however, my son does and he has a generally positive experience. Alongside his experience I often get comments from local residents about theirs and, while things have improved in some ways, many of the conversations I have are far too reminiscent of my experience of a decade ago. (It is also worth noting that some operators are better than others.)

Clearly, there is a long way to go in terms of making bus travel something you choose to do rather than have to do. And the reality is that if we are to really get people out of their cars then public transport has to be a reliable, positive experience that is an affordable alternative.

One of the (many) reasons I was proud to stand as a Liberal Democrat in the 2019 General Election is that as a Party, we had a clear commitment to investing in public transport and in improving its reliability and affordability with the aim of reducing the need for car travel. Here's what was in our manifesto:

We will:

  • Give new powers to local authorities and communities to improve transport in their areas, including the ability to introduce network-wide ticketing, like in London.
  • Restore bus routes and add new routes where there is local need; we will provide £4.5 billion over five years for this programme.
Bus passengers

At the next General Election, our manifesto will no doubt be changed and improved to better reflect the world as it is now but I hope this illustrates to you our genuine commitment as a Party to bus travel. You can read more in 2019 manifesto here under the headings 'Improving Transport' and 'Reducing the Need for Car Travel'.

My belief in the Lib Dem commitment to bus travel as a real alternative is why I'm also really concerned about the state of bus services locally and in particular their funding.

Earlier this week the Guardian ran an article on whether the Government will continue to provide its grant funding to support operators whose bus revenues have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. It highlighted that across the UK almost one in three bus services are at risk.

Speaking to Guildford and Cranleigh's Lib Dem councillors, they have advised that local services have not returned to pre-pandemic levels due to a number of reasons - financial, a significant shortage of bus drivers and high levels of staff sickness due to covid. All valid reasons in theory but we are in something of a vicious circle - if local people can't rely on the bus service they won't choose it, and if they don't choose it the service will be reduced because it is no longer financially viable. There is also the issue that buses are not well-regulated which means that companies can 'run away' if they want, e.g. they feel the route is not financially viable/they cannot make a profit.

Investing in greener transportOur councillors are not aware of any currently at-risk routes, but if there are any we're unlikely to be told by Surrey County Council until shortly before the route disappears. Of course, route closures reduce the ability of people to choose public transport and, particularly in our more rural areas, increase isolation and can cause problems for people seeking work but who don't have a car.

Local councils and Government both need to act urgently to provide support and improve our bus services. They also need to address the regulation problem. Not acting is not an option.

Firstly, Government needs to continue its support, through grants, to operators as they continue to provide services while we are still emerging from the pandemic. Secondly, I urge local councils, Government and bus companies to actually listen to bus users and the general public so that they understand what users want from services and what the public is looking for in order to make them choose bus travel. (The same goes for trains but that's another article.) More than this though, I want to see real investment in bus, and more widely public transport, infrastructure including ensuring that the emphasis is on future-proof electric and hydrogen vehicles that are not just the green choice for users but also greener in terms of emissions.

We need reliable, affordable and convenient alternatives to the car - we have a long way to go but the Liberal Democrats and I are committed to seeing it happen. After all, if we care about the future of our planet and our society we have to act.

Zöe Franklin
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Guildford, Cranleigh and our villages
25th February 2022

Zöe Contact Graphic


As promised, here is my travel diary for the rest of February:

Miles by Car

Miles on foot

Miles by train

Sat 5th

Collect son from activity in Farnborough and visit B&Q

27 (EV)

Sun 6th

Walk to cinema

1

Mon 7th

Lunch out

5 (EV)

1

Tue 8th

School run in the afternoon

1.6 (EV)

Wed 9th

School run in the afternoon

1.6 (EV)

Drive son to/from football

3 (EV)

Thu 10th

School run in the afternoon

1.6 (EV)

Drop son at school for show

7 (EV)

Fri 11th

Meeting & errands in town

1

Drop/collect son at school for show

7 (EV)

Sat 12th

Visit Cranleigh with son to meet cllr team

20 (EV)

Drop off son to activity in Farnborough

27 (EV)

Collect son from activity in Farnborough and drop to school for show

28 (EV)

Drop son to grandparent's house

21 (EV)

Tue 15th

Half term treat at Creams & cinema

1.5

Wed 16th

Trip to Woking with friends

20 (EV)

Thu 17th

Errands in town

1

Sat 19th

Drop off/collect sons at football & visit LD office

8 (EV)

Drop off son to activity in Farnborough

27 (EV)

Collect son from activity in Farnborough

27 (EV)

Attend Hamlet performance in town

1.5

Sun 20th

London for show

62

Tue 22nd

Doorstep meetings with residents in Shalford

7 (EV)

Event in London

68

Wed 23rd

Hospital appointment

3 (EV)

Collect son from gym

4 (EV)

Thu 24th

Drop off/collect son from activity

2 (EV)

Hospital appointment

2

Sat 26th

Action Day in Cranleigh

20 (EV)

267.8 miles

9 miles

130 miles