Letter from Westminster: MP Mark Garnier

It looks like we’re going to lose all of our buses. Diamond Bus, a familiar sight across the county, has written to County Council and all MPs saying they cannot continue to lose more than £1million a year on existing bus routes.

If the council does not come up with a subsidy solution by August, Diamond has no choice but to close the roads completely. This leaves us bus-free around Kidderminster and other Worcestershire towns.

It’s not a local problem. All rural bus lines are threatened in one way or another. As people find other ways to get around – most likely due, ironically, to the decline in bus availability – demand is diminishing.

The phrase “use it or lose it” has never been more relevant in what appears to be a death spiral for rural buses.

But there is absolutely no way to abandon these people who need buses and rely on them.

The council has always subsidized certain routes. In 2010, when budgets were tight, the council analyzed bus route subsidies and found that in some cases the subsidies amounted to £65 per passenger. Frankly, we could have paid for a stretch limo for every passenger.

It was not sustainable.

Trying to find a solution, I spent an afternoon this week with the political unit at No10. It turns out the solution could be a Brexit bonus.

EU rules meant transport subsidies could not be used in competition with bus companies. But now that they’re out of the EU, those grants could be used to subsidize riders from community groups like Dial A Ride.

In Bromsgrove, a trial program known as Demand Responsive Transport is underway, where passengers tell via an app what their requirements are, and the software responds by offering a service that meets demand where it is most stronger.

Sure, for some they will have to travel at possibly inconvenient times, but it’s more affordable and less damaging to the environment than existing services.

Society changes. We all buy products on Amazon and wonder why the main street is closing. We are traveling by car and wondering why there is no bus.

In time, there will be driverless Ubers that we can summon to our iPhones. But in the meantime, I can guarantee that we will not abandon those who need public transport.

One way or another, we will find a solution.

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