If electioneering Sarah Owen wants to properly understand the perennial problem of rural bus services (Rye Observer 11/7/14), the last thing she should do is launch a petition! History tells us that many petitioners will never use the bus service, once saved. Neither should she rely on the County Council’s random surveys of passengers, nor ticket audits, which frankly tell you little.
Sarah needs to plonk her incognito backside on every bottom-numbing journey, of each rural bus service for one full week to properly observe passenger usage - and lack of - and to talk candidly to regular drivers. The reality she’ll soon discover is that apart from peak school, workers’ and “t’werly bus-pass” journeys (to avoid school kids!) and market days, rural services will always be empty for most of the day forcing up bus fares to cover their high running costs; likewise the railways. Such ‘essential’ rural services only become profitable if people willingly choose to use them because time-tables and routes are convenient: this requires fast, interconnecting hourly services early morning to late evening, regardless of actual demand. Beckley to the Conquest takes 45 mins by bus (if the 344 and 340 connect!) with long waits at the Conquest, or 20 mins by car with minimal waiting!
If Sarah read bus industry histories, such as Dengate’s, she’ll understand the dilemma long faced by rural services, whether nationalised or de-regulated. These can only be run by commercial operators (now Arriva or Stagecoach) through route cross-subsidisation (which prevents competition and lower fares by enterprising local operators), or by rate/taxpayer subsidies which commercial operators will always contrive to get. Remember the battle of the 400/340 service under Labour?!
The dilemma Sarah and her Labour party faces is their unyielding belief that money grows on trees and that, come the autumn, the rate/taxpayer will cough up until we’re bled dry! Labour’s last ‘autumn’ was a disaster for this country - and we’re still paying for it!
Barry M Jones
Bixley Lane, Beckley