Had 2020 turned out as we were used to, FEP’s Infrastructure and Transport Sub-group would have been debating the final version of a major Forest transport consultation.
This research would have taken the first step to a radical approach to ‘solving’ rural transport issues by starting with people’s needs and perceptions. As a ground zero approach this ignores current transport options with their issues. The insights gained would challenge many assumptions and lead to practical change.
The Key Transport Question
In an environmentally aware world that is ever more connected, the challenge for rural areas is how to ensure that all can move easily and cheaply from one place to another when they want.
Looking at current transport choices, it becomes clear that many rely history or have emerged to fill a space. This leads to overlaps and competition, where everyone loses.
Bus services are based upon historic routes and old travel patterns. For some people they are still essential habitual services where 5 minutes late is accepted as the norm. For others that habit is alien and bus timetables unknown. Bus services are stuck in a rut where services are uneconomic to run, but through under-use only become more loss-making.
Yet buses are essential to any rural area for example in education. They take students to secondary schools on regular and special services. District secondary schools face a double challenge with covid-19. If they work out how to fit all the pupils in the schools; they also have to work out how to get them there in compliance with health regulations, school gate health & safety and traffic congestion if more come by car.
What is often hidden from the education transport debate are the large number of students that rely on the voluntary transport sector to attend.
The World has Changed…..
Over the last 50 years the way we travel has changed beyond recognition. The reasons we travel have also changed fundamentally.
Typically, we no longer live within walking distance of work or school or leisure facilities or the weekly shop. As individuals we have become more reliant on car ownership in order to get where we want when we want. And then complain at the delays, the traffic and the state of the road.
When the economy moved from local companies to industrial estates and large factories, public transport changed to get to the workforce there. The digital world has now enabled us to be connected 24/7 and to work more flexibly in smaller organisations. Now we travel more as individuals in many directions rather than in groups to a single destination.
The walk/cycle to school has been replaced as more traffic has made the road unsafe. Instead, we drive the kids to school thereby increasing the problem.
….And is Changing Still
The way we think about travelling has changed with our life expectations. We are living independent lives longer with different needs for services such as health. While the economic and environmental costs of driving ourselves are increasing.
Technology offers more opportunities and changes but rural transport faces different challenges from those in urban settings. For city dwellers the volumes of passengers enable public transport solutions; while restricted parking reduces the need for one’s own car and the creation of digital solutions for car-sharing and taxis.
The time is now right to fundamentally rethink rural transport services by starting with people’s needs for work, education, social pastimes and leisure. If we understand why we go from A to B and the real choices available, we can achieve workable balanced solutions.