'Action needed on rural bus services'

Lifeline rural bus services will become an “endangered species” if immediate action is not taken to save them, a national transport support group has claimed.

Lifeline rural bus services will become an "endangered species" if immediate action is not taken to save them, claims a national transport group.

The countryside will become a "ghetto" for the rich who have cars while buses will fall into a "spiral of decline", according to the Campaign for Better Transport.

Research by the group, formerly known as Transport 2000, shows that rural communities are being cut off from key transport links because of the increasing wage, fuel and insurance costs for bus operators.

The report, published yesterday, includes case studies of nurses left with no route to work, tourists left confused by rerouted services and elderly people unable to get to nearby shops and amenities.

It also says services could be saved if local authorities are given more power over buses, if a secure scheme for funding is established and if passengers' needs are prioritised.

It says rural bus services are being "engulfed" by rising costs, adding: "They are essential to prevent social exclusion. One in five rural households has no car and many even in car-owning households do not have access to a car, or are too young or old to drive one."

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Denise Carlo, spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich Transport Action Group, said regular bus services were crucial for many people living in rural areas.

"People can easily become prisoners in their own community. It's a problem for people of all ages - the elderly, the disabled and young people who want to go out in the evening," she said.

She supported the campaign's suggestion that a national passenger watchdog should be set up.

"Complaints about buses form quite a large proportion of MPs' postbags because people have nowhere else to send them," she said.

"People are isolated all around - not only because they can't catch a bus, but because they have no one to complain to about it."

Tracy Jessop, Norfolk County Council's head of passenger transport, said: "The county council will pay around £4.5m in 2007-08 to subsidise bus services that do not attract enough passengers to make them commercially viable. For the county council to subsidise a service, 30pc of the cost must be covered by fares taken.

"It is important to look at new ways of delivering services locally. We are now trialling Flexibus services, which are buses that act like a taxi, in the Wymondham and Wayland areas of Norfolk, and these are proving popular.

"The county council awaits pub-lication of the government's Local Transport Bill, which should include measures to help local authorities with bus travel planning."

Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for roads and transport, said bus passenger numbers in the county were increasing. He added: "Public trans-port could be better and we are doing our level best to make that happen."

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