The "Don’t Cut Us Off!" campaign wish to thank all those who attended the Public Meeting last Thursday to discuss the future of bus services in Somerset. We are especially grateful to Martin Abrams from the national Campaign for Better Transport who travelled from London to take part in the debate.
The meeting was held at Mendip District Council Chamber (under the auspices of Shepton Mallet Town Council) and it addressed the poor level of public transport provision in Somerset.
When the County Council recently made a direct threat to remove all the Saturday bus services to and from Shepton (and take away support for many other routes across Somerset) we formed the "Don’t Cut Us Off!" pressure group. If the threat had been carried out it would have cut off the town and nearby villages from early Friday evening to mid-morning Monday.
The campaign combined forces with the Frome and Villages Bus Users’ Group and made enough of a fuss to encourage 1500 people to send letters and survey forms (and petitions) to their County Councillors. For now, Shepton’s buses have been saved, but others weren’t so fortunate in Bridgwater and Weston-super-Mare.
We now want to widen the Don’t Cut Us Off campaign to include Glastonbury, Street, Wells and settlements across the whole of Somerset. We know that we all have similar issues.
Of course the ultimate irony is that bus users from further afield couldn’t get to and from Shepton to attend last week’s meeting since we have no evening bus services.
There is no magic wand to wave away the many problems raised at the meeting, but we sense that we could iron out the most glaring illogicalities if we joined forces – as we did when we prevented the closure of libraries across the county.
We see a combination of local intelligent tinkering – involving listening to bus users' experiences and suggestions, bringing bus companies together, involving our County politicians and just as important, working with others like the Campaign for Better Transport to apply pressure at national level to change policy since our local situation is a reflection of a countrywide problem.
It was obvious from the meeting that unchecked market forces aren't delivering the services that the public has a right to expect. Our hope is that a middle way can be found where core routes are made to match need.
We believe it is possible to address the most glaring issues - like the utter stupidity of buses arriving in Wells two minutes after "connecting" buses leave for Bristol, the lack of any service to match the start and end of work and college days, the lack of routes that connect logically with hospitals and rail stations, the lack of Sunday services, the lack of evening services (to make it possible to enjoy entertainment, cinema etc), better indication of routes on the sides of buses, and improved and integrated timetables and simplified cross-company ticketing.
In this era of sophisticated IT systems, it is unacceptable that nothing can be done to vastly improve connections and services to mesh with the lives of our citizens. Continuing to run down our arterial buses in our rural communities flies in the face of the increasing demand for services to connect an expanding population; it fails to address a reduction in our carbon footprint; it wastes public money (since Somerset County Council is throwing money at a broken system that they have failed to manage), and it damages our local and national economy, cutting people off from jobs, and isolating individuals and communities.
We have no easy one-solution-fits-all answer other than a distinct feeling that buses are not used by those who legislate and that the dog's breakfast of services that we currently have is probably the worst way to serve the public outside of a third world country.
At last week’s public meeting, Martin Abrams quoted the former mayor of Bogota in Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa: "An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport". Rural Somerset and Somerset County Council could learn from that!
Garfield Kennedy, Chris Inchley & Tracey Harding
for the "Don’t Cut Us Off!" Campaign