In a guest blog as part of our rural poverty series, Wales Community Transport Association Director Christine Boston explores how community-based solutions could be the key to improving transport in rural Wales.
Now the sun is shining, it is hard to remember the extreme bad weather we experienced in the first part of 2018. However, it wasn’t long ago that people across Wales got to feel what life can be like without access to transport. Our main cities ground to a halt as deep snow stopped people from driving and led to the cancellation of bus and rail services. For a brief period, people who are usually well connected felt the same isolation that those in rural communities live with every day.
In the Wales Centre for Public Policy research report on interventions to improve rural transport, it is suggested that almost a quarter of the rural population in Wales is living in poverty with many experiencing limited opportunities and social isolation. For those people, transport is absolutely key to gaining independence, enjoying a good quality of life and achieving overall well-being.
Due to geographical and population factors, all rural transport solutions rely on some kind of subsidy: whether that be public funding, grants or volunteer time. However, as public-sector budgets continue to be reduced, news of withdrawn or reduced services comes through on a regular basis. The lack of public transport options and high cost of private travel is creating a crisis for rural communities leading to poverty of access in those areas.
For some who live with the challenges of poor transport options, there is a community transport operator nearby who can offer a solution for those very necessary journeys. For example, in Powys, seventeen community transport schemes offer services such as dial-a-ride, community car schemes, flexible bus routes and group minibus hire for local groups. In 2016/17, these schemes drove 795,000 miles for 8,500 members and delivered 95,000 single passenger journeys with 90% of drivers volunteering their time to make these services possible. Similar services operate in communities across Wales, providing local transport solutions for those who need it most.
Currently, the Community Transport Association are delivering a new project that is working to increase and improve the services available at a local level to ensure more people, especially in rural areas, can benefit from flexible and affordable transport. The Connecting Communities in Wales project has been awarded funding for five years to develop further demand-responsive transport services across Wales.
Through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the Welsh Government and European Union, the project will seek to develop a sustainable Community Transport network through building the resilience and capacity of the Community Transport sector in Wales enabling them to have an impact on rural poverty and social exclusion.
Already, the project has identified a number of initiatives to be developed, and the team is working with partners to develop schemes that will increase access to group minibuses, community cars, wheels to work scooters and wheelchair accessible vehicles.
Key to the project’s success is identifying partners with a desire to make things happen so if you want to find out more about what support is available and how to get involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: CovLtwt (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)