Message to the Government – make rural transport a priority!

The South Downs Network have submitted their views to the Government as part of the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Future of Transport: rural strategy – call for evidence which closed on 16 February 2021. You can see a copy of our detailed submission to the DfT by clicking HERE Also click HERE to see our original article.

Our keynote proposal to the Government is to restore rural bus services to pre 2010 levels – All that is needed is less than 1% of the Highways England roads budget of £27 billion.

According to the Rural Coalition there are 9.3 million people living in the small towns, villages, hamlets, and farms of rural England, comprising 17% of the country’s total population. There are 524,000 registered businesses employing up to 3.7 million people and with an annual turnover of £404 billion. However public transport for rural areas has had budget cut year on year – support for buses has fallen by £800m a year over 10 years and this has affected rural areas mostly. Since 2010/11, supported bus budgets in England and Wales have been cut by £182 million – a 45% reduction.

Because of the lack of a rural bus service young people on low incomes are moving away from the countryside.  The proportion of those aged 17-20 holding a driving licence has fallen by almost 40% in recent years, dropping from 48% in the early 1990s to 29% in 2014.

In the Covid crisis, there has been a dramatic increase in leisure cycling, but as vehicle traffic returns to the roads the safety issue rears its ugly head. It may be that cyclists are deterred as the traffic increases again back to normal levels. It is impossible to develop temporary cycle lanes on narrow country roads. With the advent of e-bikes, we should focus on connecting up rural areas, especially into larger urban areas, with high quality cycle links. This would shift travel from car to bike.

Here is a selection (in no particular order) of the proposals put forward by the SDN to the DfT:

  • Set up a ‘rural taskforce’ for each county to agree rural community projects so that they may bid for ringfenced funds. 
  • Cycling strategy for the countryside and not just the towns
  • To get more people cycling and walking, safer country lanes are needed. Cycle paths and Quiet Lanes need to be introduced
  • ‘Ringfence’ money for long distance cycle paths between rural towns, villages and railway stations
  • Reduce cost for a young person’s bus pass for those young people who are not students but at work and have one national pass
  • Extend electronic bus displays [‘real-time passenger information’ (RTPI)] to villages and to rural railway stations
  • Encourage the extension of already viable bus services operating to the fringe of urban areas through into rural locations
  • Create ‘rover’ tickets that offer combined travel (without separate tickets) of rail and bus in tourist areas AONBs and National Parks
  • Update rural railway stations with covered cycle storage, integration with local bus service, electric car charging, cycle charging points secure individual cycle storage units
  • Combined ticketing and car parking charges to make car to train more attractive
  • Provision of cycle hire at railway stations and tourist venues
  • Provision of the dial-a-ride and door-to-door services in rural areas to strengthen and partner with the existing community transport services
  • Provision of cycle pickup and drop-off services for tourist locations
  • Bring Heritage Railways  into the fold to get more passengers using Active Travel and bus services to reach their locations
  • Engage with tourist organisations for joint bus and mobility projects in the countryside
  • Provision of 5G digital hubs in villages and rural business centres in advance of a general rollout

Safety on rural roads

The Government report ‘Facts on Road Fatalities’ (June 2015) say rural roads carry 40% of road traffic, but account for 62% of road fatalities. It goes on to say accidents that occur on rural roads are more likely to be of a fatal nature than those on urban roads, and that rural roads have a much higher average speed than urban roads. This problem continues to be the case in recent years. The RoSPA say in their report of 2018 that “More deaths occur on rural roads than on urban ones. In 2016, there were 1,015 fatal accidents on rural roads compared to 593 on urban roads.”

Local Initiatives

We commend the work of Transport Futures East Sussex and their partners Campaign for Better Transport, Hastings Alliance and Sustainable transport for East Sussex. We also commend the work of Hastings Greenway which aims to form a largely traffic – free network of leisure, amenity and utility walking and safe cycling routes, which will also be accessible for people with disabilities.

We also commend the work of the South Downs National Park in their ambition to create long distance multiuser paths such as the Centurion Way (between Chichester & Midhurst) and Rother Way from Petersfield to Midhurst (proposals not yet publicised).

National Reports/Recommendation

Time for a strategy for the rural economy  – published 27 April 2019 HOUSE OF LORDS Select Committee on the Rural Economy

Unlocking the digital potential of rural areas across the UK – by Rural England CIC  & Scotland’s Rural College published in March 2018