Can you remember when West Lancashire Borough Council told its elderly and disabled residents facing social isolation to sod off?
In fact we who were affected were blatantly discriminated against simply for asking that the English National Bus Pass should include West Lancashire. And so it came about, in 2010, that WLBC invented local social isolation.
Well, in 2020, more than a million people in Great Britain now live at least a mile from a bus stop with a regular service, BBC research suggests. The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said cuts to services had left some people “trapped in their homes”.
Bus pass use by older and disabled people in England has fallen by almost a fifth in a decade. The government has promised £5bn over five years for buses and cycling.
Department for Transport (DfT) figures show local and central government support for buses has fallen by £800m a year over 10 years. Analysis of bus route data for the BBC’s Panorama showed 550,000 properties, equivalent to about 1.3 million people, are at least 2km (1.2 miles) from a bus stop with a service calling on average four times a day. Quote “Your heart sinks when you need to get to the doctors”.
In many cases local buses stopped about seven years ago. What was the point of a bus pass? How many times did we tell WLBC “I’ve got a bus pass but no bus”. It was a case of “It’s almost like a discrimination against the people in rural areas with low incomes who can’t afford to take a taxi somewhere”.
Bus use has declined over the past decade along with a fall of about 10% in the number of miles covered each year, but it varies across Great Britain. According to annual DfT figures, the areas with the most steady declines in estimated miles travelled by bus include Blackburn with Darwen, which has seen a 42% reduction since 2014; Stoke on Trent (41% reduction); and North Yorkshire (41%).
The government funds free bus passes for pensioners and disabled people in England but the number of journeys made with them has fallen by 18% since 2010. The DfT said part of this decline was due to the fall in pass holders because the age at which people can receive them has risen in line with changes to the state pension age!
Darren Shirley from the CBT said “We’re seeing people who are trapped in their home, essentially.” He said many people left without a bus service would be “reliant on the goodwill of neighbours” to get around.
On average, pensioners and disabled people in England took 26 fewer bus journeys a year on their passes than they did in 2014-15, DfT data showed.
A spokeswoman for the DfT said “Buses are crucial to communities, providing key links to work, school, shops and family and friends. We’ve pledged £5 billion to overhaul bus and cycling links, which is on top of the significant £220 million investment we’ve already made to make buses more reliable and convenient. We’re also publishing a national bus strategy which will help transform local transport services in every region across the country”.
I quote Rosie Cooper MP
in the HoC 21 Jun 2006 ” Transport (West Lancashire).
“As I was saying, the problem lies with day-to-day travel in my constituency. People are now trying to negotiate a public transport system that does not get them where they need to be when they need to be there. That is serious in places such as Skelmersdale, where there is low car ownership. There is no doubt that the Labour Government are and have been committed to local transport, since their election in 1997, and that there have been year-on-year increases in transport investment. That is, indeed, a stark contrast to the policies of previous Conservative Governments. In particular, privatisation of buses has led to companies vying with each other for the most lucrative routes and deserting the less profitable ones without conscience.
“I know that this is the third Adjournment debate on transport in the past two days, and that reflects the challenging agenda that faces us. I apologise to the Minister for the wide-ranging nature of the debate, but an efficient, sustainable and successful transport system is built on the right mix of transport forms. I believe that West Lancashire is disadvantaged in two ways on transport matters. First, we are at the edge of major regional cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Preston, which attract much support and many services. I believe also that West Lancashire is not helped by its position in a two-tier authority, as its priorities are not necessarily those of Lancashire county council.
“My second issue is local bus services. This Labour Government once again demonstrated their commitment to public transport with the recent introduction of concessionary travel for the over-60s and the disabled. In the last Budget, it was announced that the scheme would be made a national scheme in 2008. In West Lancashire, we desperately need more buses and more funding for transport schemes, but where the Government are investing, local authorities are using some of the money to prop up their general revenue budgets. In my constituency, the Conservative-controlled district council received a very generous settlement of £900,000 for the new concessionary travel scheme. It estimated that it would cost £700,000 to fund the scheme and held the rest in reserves. It tried to conceal that fact by suggesting that the token scheme, which is already funded by the district council, is now being funded from Government money. Paul Daniels would be proud of that.
“Once again, Conservative politicians are prepared to starve the transport system of much-needed funding. They failed to agree with other councils across Lancashire, including Lancashire county council, a scheme that allows free travel across Lancashire. That has angered local pensioners. The council could have made a real difference with the money, but has chosen not to. What good is a free bus pass if there are no buses to use it on? That is a common and vociferous complaint that many West Lancashire residents make to me. As one resident said, there are only so many times that one can travel between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale within the district.
“Some of my constituents live on the edge of West Lancashire in Up Holland. Their nearest shops are in the next district, Wigan. They cannot get free travel to their local shops, so that bus pass is of no use to them whatever. There have been severe cuts in commercial bus services in West Lancashire in the past few years, and that will leave many of my constituents isolated and detached, unable to access core public services, employment opportunities or recreational activities.
“Some years ago—before I became an MP—a decision was made to move the accident and emergency unit from Ormskirk to Southport, a decision that I believe to be absolutely and fundamentally wrong. A lack of transport infrastructure, fast road through Ormskirk or easily accessible public transport system compounds that bad decision and poses real threats to my constituents.
“Another service, the Roundabout bus service, was funded by moneys made available under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. That bus service took Skelmersdale people to work, but when that money ran out, the scheme was stopped. Surely we can find solutions that enable people to get to work. That includes disabled people, who used the Roundabout bus services to go to Midstream an organisation that enables them to carry out garden work. Dial-a-ride, for example, cannot guarantee to take such people to work every day. I am sure that my hon. Friend will point me in the direction of demand-responsive transport, and I am a firm supporter of that method of organising and providing transport schemes. Once again, however, the experiences of people in my constituency have not been encouraging. There is a dial-a-ride scheme that almost closed last year; it has six buses but can afford to run only three of them, despite the fact that people cannot get a bus to go to a doctor’s appointment. It is impossible for local people to understand”.