Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Joined-up approach to public transport will beat 'bus is best' thinking

A call for a new and flexible approach to Buckinghamshire County Council's support for public transport has come today (Tuesday) from its all-party Environment, Transport and Localities Select Committee.

Members are urging the Council's Cabinet to support the setting up of an integrated transport unit to drive a joined-up approach to the annual £25 million investment in all transport services.

It follows an in-depth study of Buckinghamshire's public transport during the past six months.

And, say councillors, it's clear that a fresh joined-up, long-term strategic vision for public transport over the next 20 years will better serve residents' needs, rather than the current practice of basing support on demand for existing services in isolation.

Councillors, who heard two days of evidence from the county's transport providers, say new policies should break the 'bus is best' thinking that currently drives the allocation of funding.

Select Committee Chairman Warren Whyte said: 'The image of public transport is so heavily focused on buses that other options, such as taxis and community transport, are viewed merely as "alternative". This makes it difficult to shift the mindset towards a wider view.'

They had heard evidence of young people in Buckinghamshire's rural communities sharing taxis to get to social events because they were more flexible and cheaper than buses.

The Select Committee suggests there is a strong case for county council leadership in driving better community transport schemes - and more of them - to increase local on-demand services in areas commercial operators are unable to serve.

And, it says, there is a missed opportunity to strengthen support for a taxi token scheme to more closely target the needs of disabled residents. The only scheme currently in Buckinghamshire is run by Aylesbury Vale District Council.

The Select Committee heard evidence of a disconnect between different transport sectors, resulting in a failure to identify and exploit opportunities for links between community and commercial routes.

Identifying these gaps has not been easy, councillors heard, because it has not been possible to map all 66 community transport schemes in the county to see where they touch mainstream services.

With diminishing resources and tighter budgets, Mr Whyte said the Select Committee saw the best future in integrated transport services for Buckinghamshire that were overseen from a central point to get the best value for money and ensure all partners worked together effectively and more efficiently.

'Public transport has worked in the past to meet people's needs,' he said. 'But people's employment, health and leisure needs are changing and we need to respond to this to help shape a joined-up and flexible approach that will meet our needs into the 2020s.'

The Select Committee agreed today (Monday October 13) to present its inquiry report to the Cabinet on November 10.