Better bus services '˜cut social deprivation'

IMPROVING local bus services reduces social deprivation and improves people's life chances, according to a new report.

Claire Haigh, chief executive Greener Journeys
Claire Haigh, chief executive Greener Journeys

Sustainable travel campaign group Greener Journeys, which commissioned the study, called on the Government to consider the wider social benefits of the bus network when assessing future investment.

Researchers from the University of Leeds and accountancy firm KPMG found a 10 per cent improvement in local bus services in the 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods in England would result in 9,909 more jobs, 22,647 people with increased income and 2,596 fewer years of life lost.

It comes at a time when many subsidised bus routes in lesser used rural areas are under threat. In the East Riding dozens face cutbacks or the axe as the council tries to save £600,000 in subsidies.

Campaigner Richard Bryon, recently presented a petition signed by over 200 people against cuts in the Pocklington area. Two of the services under threat, the 199 and 195, come into Pocklington from Huggate and Newton-on-Derwent, just once a week on a Tuesday.

He said: “People really look forward to coming in, visiting the market, socialising, getting their hair done. It comes in for a couple of hours then goes back. The 195 service goes right by the doctor’s surgery so people can link it with their medical appointments.

“(Cuts to services) is doing exactly the opposite of what this report says. It is removing vital transport links and making social isolation worse.”

Adam Fowler, of the City of Hull and Humber Environment Forum, said: “In urban areas, bus networks are generally stable if not improving; the problem is in rural and semi-rural areas. In areas like the East Riding with an increasingly elderly population, deprivation is often hidden and social isolation is a real problem.

“A bus journey is much more than getting from A to B - the problem is the increasing cost of subsidies, which can be over £15 a head per journey.”

Greener Journeys claimed the report, The Value Of The Bus To Society, demonstrates the important role that buses have in helping to cut social deprivation, as around one in four people are at risk of social exclusion, with the same proportion not having access to a car.

Chief executive Claire Haigh, said: “This vital new research demonstrates that bus travel doesn’t just benefit the economy, it can also help alleviate deprivation and improve people’s life chances. Bus investment is not just a transport policy - it is a health policy, an education policy, a skills policy, a wellbeing policy and a social cohesion policy.

“We urge Government to consider these findings when contemplating future investment in bus services. Bus investment can deliver truly inclusive and sustainable economic growth.”

Katie Schmuecker, head of policy at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said buses “play a central part in fighting poverty” by connecting people on lower incomes or the employed to economic opportunities. She added: “A good bus service can make the difference to whether someone can sustain a job, access vital public services or shop around for low cost goods and services.”

Department for Transport figures last week showed the number of local bus passenger journeys in England fell by 2.6 per cent in the 12 months to March.

This was a reduction of 119 million compared with the previous year. During the same period fares increased by 1.8 per cent.

Bus mileage in England outside London decreased by 2.8 per cent, the largest annual decrease since 2003/04. A study found since 2010 more than 2,400 local authority supported bus routes have been reduced, altered or withdrawn completely.