Read the NPC response to the call for evidence on the Future of Transport: rural strategy
Future of Transport Rural Strategy Call for Evidence Department for Transport Zones 1-3, Floor 3, Great Minster House 33 Horseferry Road
15 February 2021
Dear Future of Transport Rural Strategy Team
NPC EVIDENCE FOR THE CONSULTATION
for the Future of Transport Rural Strategy Call for Evidence
The National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC) is Britain’s biggest independent organisation of older people, representing around one thousand local, regional, and national pensioner groups with a total of 1.5 million members. The NPC is run by and for pensioners and campaigns for improvements to the income, health and welfare of both today’s and tomorrow’s pensioners and this response is based on the views and experiences of our members. We wish to submit views to the Department for Transport for the consultation for the Future of Transport Regulatory Review.
We do not have the resources to respond in detail to all of the individual questions in the document. Therefore, our contribution is couched in general terms with areas of concern specifically mentioned. It has, however, been compiled by our Transport Working Party whose members have significant experience, often at a very senior level, in the transport industry as well as our Campaign Officer and Information Officer.
Our response will concentrate on the experiences and concerns of our members who are, by definition, in the older age range and many of whom have mobility impairment. For ease of reference, our responses to this inquiry relate to the topic headings set out in the consultation document.
Unfortunately, this consultation appears narrowly focussed on the possibility of transport innovation in what are described as rural areas. Whilst the definition of rural areas used is derived from Government statistical work it is not one that those who live outside cities or medium sized towns will recognise, due to the Government’s definition of a rural area as the share of a local authority district that is classified as rural.
That classification is determined by the distribution of population within an area and takes no account of the absence or presence of public transport links. So, for example villages and hamlets that happen to lie within a local authority district with one or more smaller towns may not be seen as rural by this consultation although they may well include scattered hamlets or villages located a mile or more along rural lanes from a transport corridor. Such places are often those that have no regular form of public transport, a significant number of older people and a journey of several miles to reach local services.
They are also often among those who have inferior infrastructure and face closure and/or consolidation of local services such as post offices, local shops, libraries and local health centres. All these have greater effect on older and mobility impaired people who are less likely to own private transport and so increase their desire for public transport provision. Any review of transport provision has to recognise that most people will see those as rural areas, otherwise the review will inevitably be flawed because transport in itself must exist to satisfy a community’s need to access services – not the other way around.
For ease of reference, our responses to this inquiry relate to the topic headings set out in the consultation document. We have addressed the topic of Building upon Urban Transport Principles first because in our view the principles of a Rural Transport Strategy are the bedrock of any policy.
Building upon Urban Transport Principles
Rural areas are not urban areas with more space. They have their own distinct challenges. In all but a very few rural environments travel options for the foreseeable future will be road based. Heavy and light rail systems will generally not have the demand or penetration to make them viable. Due to the distances involved and in many cases the topography, cycling and walking will not be a major option for older people who in general will have more health constraints than younger people.
It is also important to remember that businesses in rural areas also employ people who travel from outside the area. Farming and horticulture require distribution networks and staff to run the business, warehousing is often located on the periphery of rural areas and tourism employs many people. Our suggested list of rural principles is as follows: -
1. Transport systems in rural areas must be organised to facilitate access for all to local services such as Post Offices, Health Centres, libraries, local shops and places of worship, and be accessible to everyone. As a social service guaranteed ring-fenced Government funding must be available for rural transport services. (Key principle)
2. Rural transport services must be organised to operate for users as part of an integrated transport system combining public and if necessary, multiple other modes of transport with services coordinated if a change of service is necessary. There must be one fare between a joining point and the nearest hub town even if the journey involves different operators. (Key principle)
3. Rural transport services must operate to conditions imposed by the Local Transport Authority in England (or their equivalent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and to a set timetable if not provided on a demand responsive basis. (Key principle)
4. People in rural areas need to access neighbouring cities or towns that are often in different local authority areas for access to Education, employment, health and hospitals, shopping, leisure and entertainment. Neighbouring Local Authorities should have a duty to work together to ensure there is adequate provision of public transport to enable people to undertake these cross-boundary journeys throughout the day. (Key principle)
5. Rural transport systems operating to conditions imposed by the Local Transport Authority (or their equivalent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) must accept passes issued under the provisions of the relevant National Concessionary Travel scheme(s) as payment. (Key principle)
6. Transport operators must not discriminate against those who do not have access to digital technology. (Key principle)
7. New modes of transport and new mobility services must be safe and secure by design
8. The benefits of innovation in transport must be available to all parts of the UK and all parts of society.
9. Walking, cycling and of course horse riding should remain options for short or leisure rural journeys for both residents and those from nearby urban areas. This means that bridleways and public footpaths need to be maintained and motorised traffic excluded where it is inappropriate.
10. New transport services must assist a transition to zero emissions
11. Mobility innovation must help to improve access to services for rural residents without any cost penalty.
12. The marketplace for mobility must be open to stimulate innovation and give the best deal to consumers.
13. Data from new transport services must be shared, where appropriate, to improve choice and the operation of the transport system
Six of the principles are indicated as key because they are considered the basis of an effective rural transport system. Transport is a cross boundary / departmental topic and contributes to effective outcomes of policies and strategies in other areas such as Health, Education and Social Inclusion. The key principles must be taken into account in policies and strategies for such areas.
ISSUES FACING RURAL AREAS
Digital Connectivity and capability
Older and mobility impaired people will over time become more confident in using digital technology. Nevertheless, there will still remain those who are excluded because of cost, unavailability of broadband connections or lack of confidence. Seeking information over the internet is often very difficult as it can require the use of more than one site and complex interactions.
As a first step all transport information relating to a Local Transport Authority area should be available on one site and use a simple search engine. Bus services should have one route number throughout their journey. Changing route numbers in the middle of a journey simply creates confusion. It should also include significant cross boundary service information.
In addition, transport information must continue to be provided in other ways for those not digitally connected, possibly via the local library.
Developments in innovation for rural transport
Clearly innovation in rural transport will be welcomed although past initiatives have fallen by the wayside due to insufficient encouragement from Authorities both central and local. Examples are taxi buses, shared car use and post buses. All of these have or had theoretical promise in improving rural transport and all could be resurrected and promoted especially with the growth of home grocery deliveries. They, or any other innovation, will not happen if left to the private sector.
Inevitably funding is at the crux of the problem. In England UK Governments have had a poor record in financially supporting the ENCTS. Rural transport in our view is partly a health and wellbeing issue and should, as a social service, be funded accordingly. In England all Local Transport Authorities should first be given a block ring fenced transport allocation from central funds based on social and environmental factors, one of which would be rurality. Those Authorities should then be permitted to levy a small supplement to the Transport element of Council Tax (for example 3%) which would reflect particular local priorities. The public transport system would then be managed locally, perhaps through tendering processes. Arrangements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should at least reflect this approach, as appropriate to the devolved Government legislation.
A Local Transport Authority should be given the duty to prepare an integrated travel plan for its area which, where the opportunity exists in rural areas, would provide authority to better integrate bus and rail services.
Micromobility and new modes of travel
In our response to other consultations, we have already pointed out the disadvantages and dangers of the various micromobility vehicles being considered by the Department. To repeat, in our view the most important consideration is road safety for all highway users. In many cases the riders of some of these machines (for example electric scooters, skateboards, self-balancing machines) would be extremely vulnerable if mixed with other vehicles. In rural areas farm tractors, farming machinery and large lorries are commonly encountered on country lanes.
Given their small size, potentially limited protection and lighting and poor braking users of micromobility vehicles would present a great risk to themselves and others using the routes, particularly pedestrians and equestrians.
Community identity, journey integration, digital models and data
We believe these topics are covered elsewhere in our response.
New modes of travel
We continue to be concerned at the potential isolation of older and mobility impaired people and this is especially prominent in rural and semi-rural areas. We trust that the Government will find some way of improving bus services in rural areas as we discuss above. That would still leave action needing to be taken to give people the right to take mobility scooters on buses.
However, mobility scooters are arguably inappropriate for many rural areas for much the same reasons as micromobility vehicles. Basically, they are designed for use on footways, which are few and far between in rural areas, and have limited range. Some mobility impaired people living in rural areas may be able to take advantage of the Motability scheme – but most won’t. Therefore, Government action is needed to be taken to develop a more appropriate vehicle for such uses similar to a microcar so that it can be used safely on roads, with a speed and user training equivalent to that proposed for e-scooters.
The economic benefits of travel
Transport has an economic benefit as well a social and health benefits as it enables those who can travel to spend in a wider geographical area. In that way it also contributes to customer choice. Tourism is an obvious example, and one which is important to many rural areas. The key proven aspect of transport is that the more services which run, the better used they become. This needs a capital spend ahead of 'revenue' return which often deters service providers and authorities, but with up-front Government central financial support (eg loans at very low interest repayable over long periods), that could be addressed.
An example, Clitheroe – a rural hub
In order to better demonstrate our concerns, we have looked at public transport provision around Clitheroe in Lancashire. Clitheroe is the administrative centre of Ribble Valley Borough Council; the most rural of Lancashire’s 12 District Councils, with a population of about 58000. Agriculture and tourism are vital industries with many small businesses and only 2 large industrial sites at Ribblesdale Cement in Chatburn and BAE Systems at Samlesbury in the south west of the Borough.
Clitheroe is a transport hub for many villages in the centre of the Borough. Diagram 1 in the appendix shows the larger of those villages within about 7 miles of Clitheroe and also indicates their populations. Diagram 2 in the appendix shows schematically the bus routes in the area and more information about those is listed below (RBH = Royal Blackburn Hospital):
There are also school services, but these are not listed as adults are barred from them. There are few evening or Sunday buses other than those on the commercial services
Although superficially it may seem as though the area has an acceptable bus service many villages are not covered. Some are shown on Diagram 1. Moreover, of the 12 services listed only 2 are provided on a commercial basis, and neither serves the rural villages. Thus, most are at risk in the event of the Local Transport Authority funding having to be curtailed or withdrawn, illustrating the vulnerability of rural bus services in the absence of a ring fenced statutory national funding regime for them.
Clitheroe and Whalley retain rail stations with regular services to Blackburn, Bolton and Manchester Victoria but there are no rail connections to the local villages. There is also a bus interchange adjacent to Clitheroe station. Eastward from Clitheroe the line continues as a freight only branch via Chatburn and Gisburn to Hellifield on the Leeds – Carlisle line.
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