Which way for buses in Bedfordshire?

While the Prime Minister heralds the dawn of a new age of bus travel across the UK the current situation, particularly in Bedfordshire, is somewhat less bright and breezy. Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, when asked by Andrew Marr how many of the 3,000 routes cut by the ‘old Tory Government’ would be restored by the ‘new Tory Government’, was vague on details – and admitted that he didn’t know yet how it will all work. It’s clear there is no actual plan at this stage and what transport desperately needs in the UK is a guiding mind to oversee an integrated and accessible transport network which puts people first, not profits.

I look forward to the government’s National Bus Strategy, due to released later this year. However, when they announce with great fanfare just 250 miles of additional cycle routes, which works out at around 0.6 of a mile per local authority, please allow me to be a little cynical about the scale of their ambition or interest in creating a transport system that will meet the urgent needs created by the looming climate emergency.

188/190 Bus Stop between Langford and Henlow

Meanwhile back in Central Bedfordshire it has inadvertently slipped out, through the comms of a neighbouring Council (shout out to Hertfordshire County Council!) that Centrebus are handing in the keys to the 188/190 route between Hitchin and Biggleswade. This part of the route (the whole route is Hitchin to Sandy) was run on a commercial basis with no funding from the Council. While it’s likely that another company will take over the route it’s not clear what the service levels will be and doesn’t bode well for future service provision across Bedfordshire.

Bedfordshire has one of the lowest passenger journey rates per head of population     (13.7 in 2018/19) in England. This is not surprising when the Council are openly luke-warm about buses believing that, while they may work elsewhere, they are not the answer across Central Bedfordshire.

Bus Use

While Central Bedfordshire Council has a passive, if not comatose, approach to bus services if you slip across the border to Hertfordshire it seems you will find a far more progressive attitude. Here, the County Council are spending an additional £8 million on bus services in 2020/21 and have just announce a £1m Enhanced Partnership scheme to work more closely with bus companies and improve services.

It’s clear in Bedfordshire that there is no ‘guiding mind’ to press the case for greater integration of different transport modes and there seems to be little interest. This has resulted in bus and rail companies scheduling services as if the other doesn’t exist. This results in journeys taking far longer than need be the case and encourages the drift of even the most conscientious traveller back to the car. As Central Bedfordshire will not subsidise services before 08.00 or after 18.30, buses are not a viable alternative for commuters. Bus services are non-existent on Sundays and this increases social isolation among the vulnerable and least well off in our community.

I’ve written to Central Bedfordshire Council, asking them the questions set out below.

  1. ~ Can you advise if CBC are looking change how they administer bus services in the area – such as through ‘Advanced Quality Partnerships’ or ‘Enhanced Partnerships’ (recent example from Herts CC attached) as set out in the 2017 Bus Service Act?
  2. ~ It is four years since CBC published their Passenger Transport Strategy (identified as the Public Transport Strategy in some of your literature). This pre-dates the Bus Services Act. When do you intend to review the strategy?
  3. ~ You will be aware that the Department for Transport have provisionally awarded CBC £154,358 to improve buses in the area across 2020/21. However, this award may be withheld in part or full if the ‘statement of intent’ form does not contain sufficient evidence, including that of consultation with local bus users and residents. Can you set out how CBC have attempted to advertise this potential funding, and how it has consulted with local bus users and residents?
  4. ~ In CBC’s ‘Air Quality Action Plan 2018-2023’ it states that the Council recognise the importance of improving and promoting public transport. Can you advise how CBC have both improved and promoted public transport across Central Bedfordshire since 2018.

Of course buses are only part of the solution to provide a greener transport network, but they will play a vital role in our attempt to meet carbon reduction targets, lower traffic congestion and air pollution levels by reducing our reliance on the car. Whether buses will play a role to achieve this remains to be seen as the political will for them to do so is clearly absent at this time.

Julian Vaughan

twitter: @juliman66

email: bedsptransportwatch@gmail.com

Sources & further reading:

Bus Use Statistics: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/bus01-local-bus-passenger-journeys

Three steps to better bus services – by Campaign for Better Transport https://bettertransport.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdfs/bus-services-act-guidance.pdf
Government Press Release ‘Major Boost for Bus services’ – 10th February 2020 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-boost-for-bus-services-as-pm-outlines-new-vision-for-local-transport

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