New study examines role of public transport in combatting loneliness

The Little White Bus, based in Hawes, is one of many community transport schemes that have formed to fill the gaps left by public transport cuts.
The Little White Bus, based in Hawes, is one of many community transport schemes that have formed to fill the gaps left by public transport cuts.
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CUTS TO bus services and the negative social effects that the lack of public transport has on loneliness among older people is being examined a major survey.

Future Years, the Yorkshire and Humber Forum on Ageing, has partnered with the University of Hull to evaluate the economic and social benefits of concessionary transport, and gather evidence on the value of community transport, at a time when it is playing an increasingly important role in keeping people connected.

The results of the survey, which is being distributed to over 60s across England via over 50s forums and charities, will be passed to the incoming Government in attempt to force a review of the concessionary bus fare scheme for older people.

The Forum’s chairman, Shelagh Marshall said: “At a time when bus services are being cut, some rural areas have been left with no public bus service, which reduces the opportunities for older people to get out. Transport is the key issue to reducing loneliness and social isolation.”

Since 2008, local authorities have had to provide a bus pass for older people to travel free from 9.30am. However, due to cutbacks many bus services have been reduced and this has disproportionately affected older people, especially in rural areas, Coun Marshall said.

In January the Campaign for Better Transport revealed that £9m had been slashed from bus funding by local authorities this financial year, with North Yorkshire services facing more cuts than anywhere else in the country.

The survey will examine the role of volunteer-led community transport initiatives that have sprung up to fill the gap, and the price older people are willing to pay to travel - as bus passes are not eligible for some community transport schemes.

Dr Mary Laurenson, a senior lecturer at University of Hull’s faculty of health and social care, who is running the survey, said: “We need to know what transport is available to older people, and what they are willing to pay for, to keep them out and about so they are not lonely.”

The Yorkshire Post launched its Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign last February in an attempt to force local authorities to take tackling loneliness seriously as a health priority. It can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The Little White Bus company launched out of Hawes, North Yorkshire in 2011. It relies on 35 volunteer drivers and is funded via local authority subsidy and fares. Unlike some services, travel is free for pass holders on most services. As well as offering timetabled services, it also offers ‘demand responsive’ services in Upper Swaledale and Upper Wensleydale. Managing director John Blackie said it provided a crucial social role.

“We can drop somebody off for a doctor’s appointment and pick them up again. It is a real solution for what, for them, could be a personal crisis,” he said. “We offer a way of overcoming that rural isolation.”

The survey is open to anyone over 60 and accessible at www.surveymonkey.com/s/Future_Years until May 15.

Transport scheme set to expand

A COMMUNITY transport scheme that has grown from just one volunteer to a fleet of drivers has expanded further.

This month the Little White Bus Company began a service in Richmond, from Catterick Shopping Centre t Leyburn and as far as Bedale, and will soon sweep further across North Richmondshire with a new £60,000 16-seater mini bus.

The addition brings the fleet up to eight minibuses and will serve an area with little or no public transport links. For more information visit www.dalesbus.org/LWB.html