A blog from the Herefordshire Sustainable Transport Group
Free Fares, no fares, fare free, zero fares; there is a lot of talk about this of late. The Hereford Issue has started a petition for making Herefordshire’s Buses Fare Free. At a higher level, NatCen research on behalf of the Department for Transport indicates that creating financial incentives had a longer lasting effect than appealing to people about the environment in getting people out of their cars onto active travel and public transport.
A large number of European towns, cities and sub-regions now provide free public transport especially on buses and trams, many of the same size as Herefordshire. The effect has been to reduce car usage which opens up the possibilities for making town and city centres car free; a positive environmental and health benefit.
However, such a benefit can only be achieved if free fares are implemented as part of an integrated bus strategy. In other words, what use are free fares to people if they haven’t got a bus or a bus service only once or twice a week and at inconvenient times?
The Council for the Preservation of Rural England has recently jumped on the bus with the impending publication of their important report Every Village, Every Hour: a comprehensive bus network for rural England. The need for both a national and local bus strategies is more evident now than ever. The government’s ambition is stated as to secure a long term, sustained improvement in bus services. But to achieve this, a sustained commitment to financial support will be required, not the bitty mess of grants and knee jerk spasmodic government actions thrown at public transport.
Such committed finance is best channelled through the regions and for rural areas through the unitary authorities and shire counties. It is these authorities who know their areas and their requirements best. Yet all the signs emerging from the Treasury are that austerity is still with us and public services are to bear the brunt of having dished out billions of pounds to private rail and bus companies during this pandemic. We have a long bus journey ahead of us, if buses are still to be around in rural areas!
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