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MPs call for ‘total transport’ pilot scheme for isolated communities

Local councils should consider pooling together different transport budgets held by health, social services and other departments to improve transport provision to isolated communities, MPs on the cross-party Transport Select Committee have said.

The MPs want to see a large-scale pilot of a ‘total transport’ scheme, which they feel could be “hugely beneficial” to isolated communities. However, the Committee stated that it does not have clear evidence on the benefits and costs, because no large-scale trials have yet been carried out in this country.

Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Committee, said: “If, for example, hospital transport were combined with local bus services, it might revolutionise services for isolated communities. We want to see the DfT test that concept in practice by co-ordinating large-scale pilot schemes.”

Speaking at the launch of the Committee’s report – Passenger transport in isolated communities – she added that policy makers sometimes equate ‘isolated’ with rural or island communities, but the MPs found that some urban and suburban areas have inadequate passenger transport.

It has been recommended that the DfT should draft a definition of ‘isolated communities’ for use across central and local government to target scarce resources in ways that reach all types of isolated community.

The cross-party Committee also warns that neglect of services to isolated communities will reduce access to education, employment, health services, and other essential services.

Additionally, the MPs have challenged the DfT’s assertion that community transport schemes run by volunteers can compensate for decreased bus services in isolated communities. Ellman said: “We recognise their value but many community transport schemes are tiny and only serve particular groups in the community. But it is unrealistic to expect volunteers to replace local bus services.”

Responding to the report, a DfT spokesperson said the department knows that bus services are vital transport links across England. “That is why the department is providing protected funding until 2016 to run bus services and keep ticket prices down,” he said.

Cllr Peter Box, chair of the Local Government Association’s Economy and Transport Board, said: “The Committee is right to recognise that subsidised travel provides not only a lifeline for vulnerable and isolated residents to go shopping, pick up medication, attend doctor appointments or socialise with friends but also to travel to and from work or school

“Our ageing population means demand for the concessionary fares scheme in particular is increasing while government funding for the scheme has reduced by 39% in the past four years. The Government must commit to fully funding subsidised bus travel to keep up with growing demand and cost. Failure to do so will mean councils remain unable to protect the cherished bus routes and services people rely on every day.”

(Image: People 1st)

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