Shropshire 'sidelined' as county misses out on rural transport funding

A community bus operator has said Shropshire's old and disabled residents have been "sidelined" after the county missed out on a share of £20 million designed to shake-up rural transport.

The Government's Rural Mobility Fund was set up to support innovative on-demand services, such as minibuses that can be booked via an app and are able to get closer to where people live in rural and suburban areas, at a time convenient for them.

Staffordshire, Cheshire East and Warwickshire were among the 17 area to benefit and will receive just over £1m each, but Shropshire will not be receiving funding.

John Harrison, of North Salop Wheelers Community Bus Project, is part of a campaign network which has been transporting residents from villages to appointments through the pandemic lockdown.

"We have kept this service going for the last 12 months without a break. It is old people running this and we deserve better.

"We have been operating a Covid express service and going into areas to pick up people where no-one else will go. It is safe to say that we will be making inquiries about this. Shropshire's old, sick and disabled people have been sidelined yet again."

The fund was unveiled as the  Government launches its new National Bus Strategy, backed by £3 billion of investment, which will see passengers across England benefitting from buses that are more frequent, more reliable, easier to use and understand, better coordinated and cheaper.

The changes include simpler bus fares with daily price caps, more services in the evenings and at the weekends, integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes, so passengers can easily move from bus to train and all buses to accept contactless payments. Funding will enable authorities to trial innovative projects in rural and suburban areas, where traditional timetabled services are often not practical.

It aims to help residents who do not drive, especially older people, to access medical appointments, work and education – combatting isolation and loneliness.

Transport Minister Baroness Vere said: “Buses are the life-blood of our communities. They get us to work, to school and to see friends and family.

“Put simply, They help us make the little everyday journeys that make up our lives. “In places where people are more dispersed, and the distance they need to travel is longer, it can be harder for traditional, timetabled bus services to truly meet their needs.

“The funding we are announcing today will give local authorities the opportunity to trial services that work better for communities – such as wheelchair-accessible minibuses that can be booked on an app on request. The schemes will help people who’ve had limited transport links for too long get to where they need to be.”

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