Shropshire buses report: Look at how Swiss roll, says professor
A pressure group has called for a 'change of mindset' when it comes to public transport, after comparing bus services in Shropshire to those in rural parts of German, Sweden and Switzerland.
The Foundation for Integrated Transport said a combination of under-investment in bus services, and a lack of co-ordination with train links were major factors behind the level of car dependency in Shropshire.
The report by John Whitelegg, a visiting professor at Liverpool John Moores University, also suggested that Shropshire could learn from the public transport system in Cornwall.
There railway stations also served as small bus stations, he said, adding that all the different public transport operators used a joint ticketing system.
Bus timetables should be reconfigured to link up with train times, providing more rapid journey times, he said.
His report also suggests Shropshire Council should use new powers to take charge of bus services, which are currently regulated by the Traffic Commissioner.
Professor Whitelegg, who is a member of South Shropshire Green Party, said that the Bus Services Act 2017 would allow the council to take responsibility for bus services, and meant it could co-ordinate the county's fragmented network.
He said while funding was a major issue, changing the way bus services were managed was even more important to providing a co-ordinated service.
Prof Whitelegg said Shropshire Council's last bus strategy, published in 2016, made it clear that bus funding was a low priority in Shropshire, and likely to be cut by 75 per cent.
He said Shropshire Council, like many authorities, was under acute pressure to reduce spending. But he said the authority needed to attach greater priority bus services when deciding how to allocate funds.
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The authority has also launched a six-week consultation into proposed reductions to its public transport budget, which would see a reduction in the number and frequency of bus services subsidised by the council.
The council’s financial strategy for 2019/20 includes a budget reduction of £405,000 in public transport and £50,000 for Shrewsbury park and ride.
Prof Whitelegg said: "Currently, in Shropshire buses are a low priority for the council and subject to large budget cuts.
"We can do so much better than the current disorganised and uncoordinated arrangement. We need to address funding but changing the way we do things is more important than more funding.
"Rural residents in Shropshire and in every other English shire deserve a much better bus service than the one currently on offer and the time is now right to embark on the upgrade."
He said Cornwall was an example of a rural authority which was using the powers at its disposal to produce an integrated transport network.
"Cornwall has been developing its railway stations with good bus interchange and is now creating integrated timetables linking the local rail services with the buses.
"This is a feature of the systems in other countries, and Cornwall has shown it can be applied here too."
He said in Cornwall a single ticket could be used for all bus rail and ferry services, regardless of the company providing the transport.
Prof Whitelegg said the council had also expanded the way passengers could buytickets on buses, including using a mobile phone app and contactless payments with debit or credit cards.
He said the uniform branding for all public transport operators provided a single point where information could be accessed over the internet, with tools to make journey planning easier.
Prof Whitelegg looked at the village of Sternenberg in Switzerland which he said, with a population of 349 compared well with many of Shropshire’s villages.
"Unlike Shropshire’s villages Sternenberg has seven buses each weekday, five on normal weekends and seven on summer Sundays and holidays," he said.
"Each Sunday bus leaves at 24 minutes past the hour, connecting with trains arriving at 20 minutes past the hour.
"The bus calls at the church, dropping off hikers, then does a circuit of the main hamlets collecting locals before returning to Bauma to connect with an outward train.
"Once they board the bus the residents of Sternenberg don’t need to worry about timetables. Each bus meets the train at Bauma which in turn connects at the regional hub of Winterthur with another train to Zürich and major centres.”
The report concluded: "There is no such thing as a 'rural transport problem' and it is in fact very easy indeed to provide high quality rural public transport in a way that supports vibrant, healthy, economically successful rural communities and contributes to keeping young people in those communities.
"This is what happens in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden and there is no reason at all why it cannot happen in England."