The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) has released a report showing that Government budgets to subsidise bus routes were reduced by over £20m last year and that more than 300 services were reduced or removed completely in England and Wales. CBT has called for the Government to act to save these bus services, as the report showed council funding had almost halved since 2010.
Some councils have preserved rural bus services, recognising them as an essential public service, but many routes are closing as private providers deem them unprofitable. This poses huge problems for older and vulnerable people, who rely on public transport to go shopping, attend hospital appointments and socialise.
However, so too does proposed guidance on the regulation of the community transport sector, which covers areas without public or private transport providers and that serves some older people who are simply too frail to even use public transport. Without community transport, thousands of older people would be effectively trapped at home.
The proposed guidance, released by the Department for Transport, would mean over 80% of community transport providers would need commercial driver’s licenses, which could cost up to £1,700 for each driver including 35 hours of periodic training per driver. Of the local Age UK charities that provide minibus services to older people, the majority would be unable to afford any extra cost burdens or recruit drivers who would want to undertake the increased training. This means that many local charities and community groups would have to stop providing these services, leaving thousands of older people trapped at home and unable to access their activities.
This could no doubt exacerbate feelings of loneliness and social isolation among older and vulnerable people – all at a time when the Government has just pledged £20 million to tackle loneliness.
The Department for Transport invests significantly in the free bus pass for older and disabled people. This is obviously hugely beneficial for older people who live in areas covered by public transport, but for many others community transport is the only viable option.
If the Department for Transport is serious about increasing the mobility of older people and reducing loneliness they should reconsider their proposed guidance on community transport regulation. There must be a better way.
You can read Age UK’s consultation response here.