It’s not just the floods that are devastating Somerset

What has happened to public transport in Somerset...?
What has happened to public transport in Somerset…?

Anyone in range of a television, computer or radio in the past two months will be very aware of the devastating floods that have wreaked such havoc and misery in the Somerset levels and beyond, and will rightly feel very sorry for those affected. Plenty has been written on the failings of national government to respond to the crisis quick enough, but I do wish to focus on another crisis facing Somerset, and, indeed, all rural areas of the UK.

Since the coalition came to power in 2010 savage spending cuts have been implemented across nearly all government departments, including cuts to local government funding and transport. These cuts have had dreadful, and predictable, effects across the whole country but the effect on rural areas is rarely reported. Year upon year cuts to bus services have been of huge frustration to people of all ages living in Somerset. When I first attended college in 2009 there were dedicated bus services running at peak time between Cullompton and Taunton which also ran hourly throughout the day; these now only run at peak time. This means any student from Cullompton attending SCAT or Richard Huish needs to change at Tiverton to get home. There was also a relatively frequent service running from Taunton to Exeter which was invaluable when we were teenagers to go shopping in Exeter. Now this has been axed altogether, and once again you need to change at Tiverton via a very infrequent bus service. Needless to say, this is very frustrating for students, workers and shoppers.

The fact is bus services to outlying villages and rural areas were already very limited and many people, particularly elderly people and those without transport, are underserved by this transport which is meant to be a public service. Bus services have largely become more infrequent or cut altogether since the coalition came to power, and this is having a negative impact on already-stretched rural communities.

There was a time when this vital public service was owned by the taxpayer, and was there to do exactly as its title suggests – provide a service to the British public. But Thatcher’s Tories soon put an end to that, and we are left with an expensive bus service that does not adequately serve Britain’s people. Short of returning it to public ownership, national government should at least increase funding to local authorities to allow them to grant more subsidies to bus operators to run more frequent and wide-ranging services. Now we all the Tories won’t do this, but will the Lib Dems? No chance. And you can be sure that Somerset’s Jeremy Browne and David Laws, both icons of the Lib Dem Right, will not argue for either. In Somerset, the only way of ensuring dedicated public services is to vote Labour.


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Alan Bond
Alan Bond
10 years ago

Nice to see a picture of Evercreech Junction station at the head of this. It’s a typical example of the folly of Ernie Marples and his minion Beeching who closed this, and many other railway lines, without a moment’s thught for the consequences. This is topically relevant just at this moment with the news that the main West of England main line has been severed at Dawlish due to the storms. Since the line opened in 1846 it has been prone to storm damage but until the mid 1960s there was an alternative route to Newton Abbot via Longdown, Ashton, Trusham and Heathfield. In spite of many experts calling for it to be retained, it was peremptorily closed without any thought for the possible consequences. So, we now have the railway network West of Exeter cut off from the rest of the country for goodness now how long. Of course, the story doesn’t stop there, as many of the west country’s railways were closed without a thought for the consequences. The lines to Bude, Ilfracombe, Wadebridge and Padstow were also kicked into touch to be, in common with many others across the length and breadth of Britain, replaced by buses. Anyone who has made the journey from Exeter to Bude by bus will testify as to the sheer torture of the seemingly interminable journey. To Wadebridge and Padstow much the same comments would also apply. This, of course, assumes that the privatised and de-regulated bus companies even keep running these services. In West Somerset alone we have seen evening a weekend services decimated as government cuts mean that councils can no longer subsidise ‘unremunerative’ services. When the bus industry was privatised and de-regulated in 1986, a majority of us in the industry warned of a system where buses would only operate between 7am and 7pm Monday to Saturday, especially outside the more lucrative urban areas. It is no coincidence that the system of regulation by TfL in London that requires operators to provide a proper public service has resulted in a massive increase in bus usage while everywhere passenger numbers are in constant decline. At the very least, there needs to be put in place a replacement for the 1930 Road Traffic Act which properly regulated bus services. It allowed (and in some cases required)bus operators to subsidise routes which were not financially viable from their own resources generated by the more profitable routes. Instead of this we now have operators throwing their toys out of the pram because councils have cut their subsidies due to and inept government which values the wealth accumulators above the majority who are actually the wealth creators. Furthermore, to waste billions of pound on a high speed rail link simply in order to cut the journey time from London to Birmingham is utter madness when there are railway routes across the length and breadth of Britain which are crying out to be re-opened. Many of these are in the West Country but there are others like the Bletchley to Oxford line which could be re-opened at minimal cost if this incompetent government would stop dragging is neanderthal knuckles along the ground and cease pandering to their big business cronies. I won’t hold my breath !

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