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The places where it's rather hard to get a bus

By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Magazine

image copyrightGetty Images

Bus services across England and Wales are threatened with being wiped out by cuts to council budgets, campaigners say. But how has life changed in places already feeling the squeeze?

The Dorset village of Briantspuddle is a place where you have to be patient when waiting for a bus.

"It's very depressing if you can't get out and about," says Cynthia Read.

"They don't think about the impact on people's lives when they take these decisions to cut bus services. It can be very demoralising for people in the countryside."

Read, a 69-year-old non-driver who used to work in accountancy, moved to Briantspuddle with her disabled husband Rodney six years ago.

"For the first five years, the bus service worked well, but it was cut last year," she says.

"We used to have buses every day to Dorchester and Poole, except for Sunday. Then they were then cut back to two a week to Poole, daily to Dorchester but no buses at all on the weekend.

"We are now hearing rumours that the Poole bus is going completely.

"We all pay our taxes and council tax and we shouldn't be penalised because of bad management of councils, and government.

"This village fought long and hard for a bus. It's a disgrace, treating rural villages like this."

image copyrightAlamy
image captionBriantspuddle in Dorset

Affpuddle and Turnerspuddle Parish Council - which covers Briantspuddle - describes the villages as "places for reflection within easy reach of excitement".

But Dorset is one of several areas where bus services will be "hit particularly badly" by cuts to transport subsidies over the next few years, as councils adjust to reductions in their budgets, the Campaign for Better Transport warns.

It predicts that users in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Somerset, West Berkshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, North Yorkshire and Lancashire are also likely to be affected.

CBT says councils under pressure to reduce spending have cut £78m - a quarter of service subsidies - since 2010-11, during which time 2,400 services in England and Wales have been reduced, altered or withdrawn.

image copyrightPA

A petition calling for the preservation of services in Louth, Horncastle and Mablethorpe, in Lincolnshire, attracted more than 1,100 signatures in a week, according to the local Save Our Buses Group.

In Witney, Oxfordshire, represented in Parliament by David Cameron, the 213 and 214 services are among those under threat as part of county-wide cuts to bus subsidies.

Martin Hallam, a retired former senior probation officer who lives in the village of Milton-under-Wychwood, a few miles from Witney, is fearful there will soon be "no service worth the name", adding that provision has declined in recent years.

"The way the bus runs, if we want to get to the dentist, we have to leave our house before 10:00 and be on the bus back by 11:30, or it simply won't happen by public transport," he says.

"We don't have any buses on two days of the week, so on those days we aren't even allowed to get toothache."

Oxfordshire County Council says it has protected bus services from six years of cuts so far.

"We continue to discuss with bus companies the prospects for them continuing to run currently subsidised services on a commercial basis," a spokesman says. The final decision on the council's budget will be taken on 16 February.

For the current financial year, 248 services in England have been reduced or altered and 124 withdrawn, CBT says. The worst affected area in this year is that covered by Devon County Council, with 58 services hit.

This is followed by Hertfordshire County Council on 54, Greater Manchester on 35, Staffordshire County Council on 35 and East Sussex County Council on 33.

For Wales in 2015-16, 32 bus services have been altered or reduced and 21 have gone, according the CBT.

"I recognise that buses provide a vital service in local communities, and particularly in more remote areas," says transport minister Andrew Jones.

He adds that councils make decisions on individual routes, and that the government has protected around £250m of funding for services in England, as part of last year's spending review.

"This has preserved millions of bus journeys every year," Jones says.

image copyrightAlamy

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, says members are "reluctantly taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes as a result" of Whitehall cutbacks.

But could there be a way of saving at least some of the under-threat services, even in a time of austerity?

In 2011, the market town of Hawes in North Yorkshire lost its bus service to Garsdale Station. After protests by residents, North Yorkshire County Council offered a reduced £25,000-a-year subsidy, and the free use of a minibus, to anyone who could re-start the service.

Local people got together and set up their own organisation, The Little White Bus Company, to run things - relying on a mixture of part-time and volunteer drivers. The service grew and now carries around 50,000 passengers a year, with 42 volunteers on its books.

image captionThe Little White Bus service in North Yorkshire is run on a voluntary basis

"It works like an absolute dream," says John Blackie, managing director of the Little White Bus Company, which is run on a not-for-profit basis.

"People absolutely love helping out. We've got magistrates, an ex-judge, an architect, a housewife, a computing professor and two or three Methodist preachers who take part. One of them tries out his sermons in advance on the passengers. They love that."

The white minibuses are a familiar sight on the country lanes around Hawes, home to Wensleydale cheese and situated in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

"At a time when funding for councils and transport is being hit, this is absolutely a model for other areas to follow," says Blackie."

The future of Briantspuddle's bus services, like those across Dorset, is up for discussion, the county council just having finished a consultation how to save £500,000. It will report its findings later this month.

"With significant reductions in our funding from government, we need to focus on bus services that support Dorset's economy by helping people get to school or work," says Peter Finney, the council's cabinet member for the environment.

What that means for Briantspuddle's large elderly population remains to be seen.

"It's vital to the future of the village that we keep at least the service we have now," says Cynthia Read. "Otherwise a lot of people will have to start moving away."

image copyrightPA
image caption1962: A bus stuck in the snow near Briantspuddle - nowadays locals face different transport problems

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