Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Save Our Sunday Buses!

I've been banging on about Hay needing a better bus service (particularly an evening bus) for years, to no avail. In fact, public transport is another area where County Councils can see savings to their budget, without considering the costs of those savings both to the people who live in the area and the tourists who come here.
So this evening I went straight from work across the road to the Swan, where there was a meeting about the Sunday bus services organised by Transition Towns Hay and Rail for Herefordshire.
I arrived a little bit late, so I didn't catch the name of the chap who was giving an overview of the public transport system to start with, except to gather that he is an academic. Buses, he said, are a pretty big deal - outside London 2.2 million trips are taken every year, and one billion pounds is spent by government on concessionary transport - bus passes.
In this area, the 39A on Sundays is a service contracted by Herefordshire County Council from Yeoman's Canyon, but one third of the cost is borne by Powys County Council to reflect the distance travelled in Powys. The Stagecoach Monday to Saturday service is not subsidised - it's a commercial route, and as long as there are college students who need to get to Hereford or Brecon, the need for it is obvious.
What's less obvious is the knock-on effect of the loss of a bus service on tourism.
The speaker at the meeting said that the subsidy for the Sunday bus is somewhere around £3.80 per passenger trip, but his studies showed that, on average, a passenger would then spend around £38 at their destination. In 2012 - 13, the Sunday bus service carried about 3,500 people, or around 65 people every Sunday - many of them coming to have a day out, and spending around £38 per head. A local councillor from Clehonger asked what the average train subsidy was, to compare, and was told that it was around £18 - so why can't areas without trains have a similar investment in their local transport, he wanted to know?
Other users of the bus have been connecting with the Beacons Bus for a day's walking - but the Beacons Bus has already been axed. Only the bike bus from Cardiff remains of that system.
Others again use the bus to get to Hereford to connect with the train - which is where the Rail for Herefordshire group gets involved. They have a long term objective to campaign for a bus station beside the train station for integrated local public transport, dependent on how the proposed link road fits in (if it ever gets built).
One lady had come from Peterchurch, and was very worried about being cut off from the outside world. Peterchurch doesn't have much more than one shop, a couple of pubs, a restaurant and a hairdressers'.
June Pugh had come, representing the Tourist Information office, and said that their busiest time was for finding B&Bs for Saturday evenings, so that visitors could stay over and leave town at their leisure on Sundays, after a bit more shopping. All that would be lost if the bus was lost.
As it is, there is a problem for hikers with dogs, as Yeomans' Canyon refuse to carry animals, whereas Stagecoach are quite happy to allow dogs. I had trouble with that myself a few years ago, when returning from a re-enactment weekend with my dog, and masses of medieval kit, and had to argue with the driver to get home (and pay full fare for the dog) when I had never had any problems with travelling with her on Yeomans' Canyon before that.

So, what can be done?

One suggestion was that local councils along the bus route should raise their precept to fund the bus service - but there are other demands on the spending of the precept, and local communities can't possibly fund them all. At the moment there is still a serious threat to the public toilets, and raising the precept seems to be the only way of saving them. The 39A goes through several local council areas - which is why there was a councillor from Clehonger at the meeting (but no councillors from Hay).
Another suggestion was that Dial-a-Ride could take on some of the responsibility - but that's just another way of using volunteers to do something for nothing when it has previously been a proper job. The chap from Powys Council who was at the meeting pointed out that Dial-a-Ride drivers can now be paid, and there is no legal requirement for Dial-a-Ride to limit the radius of their journeys to a certain area, but it's still not an adequate replacement for a professional service. He also suggested that local councils and local traders or Chambers of Commerce could get together to find a solution - which was basically a way of saying "Sorry, chaps, you're on your own!"
One chap asked if it was concessionary passes that were part of the problem - but the speaker pointed out that there was nothing to stop the holders of bus passes from paying the full fare if they wanted to. It gets difficult, too, because the rules for using bus passes are different in Wales and England.

The decision at the meeting was to form a working party with members from both Transition Towns Hay and Rail for Herefordshire to work together to campaign to save at least the Hay to Hereford leg of the journey. If possible, they would also like the first bus to get to Hereford by 10am, so that passengers can connect with trains to London, Manchester, and Birmingham, and other Sunday bus services - though the worry is that all the Sunday buses in Herefordshire might be lost, apart from the one from Hereford via Ross to Gloucester. And, if possible, they want to put forward a proposal which would save Herefordshire County Council some money, as they might be more amenable to retaining a service in that case.

At any rate, it's worthwhile having a go.


Andrew Williams said...

A very useful meeting - and a real eye opener in terms of the potential cost to traders, B&B's, cafes, etc if the Sunday bus is lost.

I believe the main speaker was Les Lumsdon, chair of Rail for Herefordshire, http://www.railforherefordshire.com/

Kate Hainge said...

Hay & DIstrict Dial-a-Ride have attended several meetings with Herefordshire Council to discuss the future of community transport and public transport in the county. If we can be of help to the working group please do contact our office: 01497 821616. Many thanks! Kate Hainge