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Rural Bus Service Improvements Win National Recognition as Usage Climbs by 25%

October 31, 2013 5:16 PM
Mayor Dave Hodgson marks the launch of new bus services in both rural and urban Bedford Borough with Godfrey Willis of BABUS, Andy Campbell of Stagecoach and Grant Palmer

This photo was taken at the time of the launch of the new rural and urban bus services back in 2011, with Godfrey Willis of BABUS, Andy Campbell of Stagecoach and Grant Palmer, whose company runs the rural services commissioned by the Council

As has been widely reported, rural bus services elsewhere across the country have faced drastic cuts in the face of the unprecedented reduction in funding for local authorities. While we are obviously contending with those same cuts in our funding, we have fought to protect rural bus services and have introduced new and improved routes, so it was pleasing to hear that those new services were singled out for praise at the recent National Transport Awards.

The judging panel awarded Highly Commended status to our rural bus improvements, which have seen a remarkable 25% increase in rural bus usage since they were introduced in 2011. The panel recognised the extent of that achievement, especially in the current financial climate, and identified our rural services for praise ahead of much larger authorities such as Transport for Greater Manchester and Essex County Council.

We initiated the improvements in services in 2010, when we launched a comprehensive series of consultation events with local rural communities right across the borough to identify exactly what residents' requirements were for local bus services. These were drawn up into a list, which was then used as the basis to invite tenders to operate the rural network. So, we didn't tender services based on what we thought current and potential rural bus users needed, but on what they actually told us they required. The Council then worked with preferred bidder Grant Palmer to deliver a rural bus network which met those requirements.

As with any new system on this scale, there have been bumps in the road and adjustments needed along the way. But underpinning the system is our commitment to make sure that consultation did not end in 2010, but is an ongoing process to make sure the services are meeting rural communities' needs as far as possible. The evidence of the 25% increase in usage certainly suggests this approach is having a positive impact.

Some local authorities have simply decided that in the current climate they cannot afford to support rural bus services at all and have attempted to slash all funding altogether areas have seen. We know that bus services provide a crucial link with vital services and amenities for many people in our rural areas, so we have rejected this approach in favour of working with rural communities to ensure they have access to the bus services they need. This is an ongoing process and there is always more to do, but along with the additional Sunday and evening services in Bedford and Kempston and the brand new bus station we are building, bus services face a bright future in Bedford Borough, in defiance of the national picture.