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Transport Deserts report

CfBT Transport deserts report CfBT Transport deserts report

11th February 2020

Rural communities are being left high and dry in ever-widening ‘transport deserts’ with completely inadequate bus and train connections.

CPRE's new report on Transport Deserts (see link to report at end of this article) has shown that more than half of small towns in the South West and North East of England have such bad transport connectivity that they’re considered to be ‘transport deserts’ or are at imminent risk of becoming one.

A ‘transport desert’ occurs when a community lacks the public transport options for residents to be able to conveniently travel on a day-to-day basis without driving. The research has been conducted by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) for CPRE, the countryside charity, and is the first attempt to develop a scoring system to rank the public transport options available to rural communities. Nearly one million people (975,227) who live in these towns have no option for convenient and affordable public transport and risk being cut off from basic services if they don’t have access to a car.
Public transport services, including bus, train and community transport options, were scored in over 160 locations in the South West and North East against their accessibility and frequency. The analysis has shown that in 56% of the cases, residents who can’t drive or are unable to afford a car are at risk of being cut off from basic services.
Five Dorset towns feature amongst those most at risk of becoming transport deserts
Of the larger settlements, Verwood, Ferndown and Wimborne Minster score poorly while St Leonards and Shaftesbury fare equally badly amongst smaller places. All have weak bus services and no rail connection. Verwood, Ferndown and St Leonards are located close to one another but someway distant from the county’s major settlements. Important resources such as the community hospital at St Leonards are not served by conventional bus services.
Crispin Truman, chief executive at CPRE, said:
“A thriving countryside depends on well-connected small towns and villages serviced by low carbon public transport that fit into people’s everyday lives. But it is clear that, outside of England’s major cities, communities are being left high and dry in ever widening ‘transport deserts’ with completely inadequate bus and train connections. And this is having dramatic effect on rural communities – young people are compelled to move away, older people are left isolated and lonely, while less affluent families can be sucked into a cycle of debt and poverty.

“CPRE is calling on the government to act now to reconnect everyone with proper public transport options. That means establishing a dedicated rural transport fund. But recent government funding to re-open some railway lines across the country does not go nearly far enough – especially in the shadow of the 28.8 billion planned spend on roads. If the prime minister and this Government are serious about ‘spreading opportunity to every corner of the UK’ we need decisive action to stop the march of ‘transport deserts’.
Beneath the headlines, the research shows that the lack of public transport in some counties is even more severe:
• Dorset: 10 out of the 14 small towns in Dorset have become ‘transport deserts’ or are at risk of being absorbed into one. This is after 80% cuts to spending on bus services in the county;
• Devon:  17 of the 25 towns investigated are in the same position.
Transport Deserts: a definition
A ‘transport desert’ is a settlement which is inappropriately served by public transport in a way that is likely to limit choices and opportunities for the people who live there. Living in a ‘transport deserts’ means that you are reliant on travelling by car for your day to day life. For instance, you might not have access to a train line for getting to work, there might be no bus you can take to pick up groceries, or there might not be enough services to allow you to get to a GP appointment on time.
It is worth stressing that the concept of a ‘transport desert’ is a relative one. For an individual, anywhere is a ‘transport desert’ if you lack the means to use the services and facilities available. Across the country, the quality and extent of public transport varies considerably. Equally, a relative lack of transport choice will mean something very different in a large city compared with a small village.

About the research:
The ‘Transport Deserts’ methodology is based on a simple indicative scoring system for each settlement. The scoring methodology seeks to capture the extent and usefulness of the public transport services in a way that is relatively simple and easy to understand. Marks are given for frequency of bus and train service in peak and off-peak periods, reflecting different user needs. Limited marks are also given for direct access to coach services and for taxi and community transport.
This methodology has been applied to two regions of England; the North East and the South West. These were selected as examples of regions with large rural areas which experience a diverse range of social and economic challenges. In the South West 111 settlements and small towns have been identified. In the North East 51 settlements and small towns have been identified.

Cuts to local bus services
According to Future of the Bus by the Campaign for Better Transport, cuts to local bus services have impacted 3000 bus routes between 2010 and 2018. That’s more than one bus route lost every single day for the last 8 years. Uniquely for a major transport mode, the UK has had no national strategy for buses. The government is set to release a national bus strategy in this parliament.


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