Transport Matters: Support our buses

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When bus services were privatised in 1986, fresh opportunities arose for small companies to serve small communities with small buses running more frequently than the large companies had done with their large buses.

The pictures show a taxibus at Burnmouth (inset) and the view from a taxibus about to cross the border at Lamberton nearly 30 years ago.

These ran every hour all day every day (including Christmas day) from Berwick to Eyemouth, Coldingham and St Abbs.

The present services are based on the frequency set up by the taxibuses then.

In general, Scotland takes public transport more seriously than England, though Northumberland manages better than many counties further south. People on both sides of the border benefit from the fact that Berwick and Alnmouth/Alnwick are on the East Coast Main Line, and have far better levels of service than almost anywhere else of their size in England.

However, complacency must be avoided. The accountants are always looking for ways of saving money, and our bus and train services will not be immune from reduction unless we are vigilant.

The elderly in Scotland have free travel on all buses and coaches in Scotland, while those in England enjoy it only on buses.

Because so many bus services have been whittled away to almost nothing in many areas, the elderly in rural England can often only use their bus pass when they go to town.

How many people ask their prospective parliamentary candidates what their transport policy is?

Spirit Buses is a brave new venture in mid-Northumberland aimed at providing connectivity for people living in small communities. It is echoing the spirit of adventure of the taxibus services at Berwick nearly 30 years ago, and deserves support.

The trouble with public transport generally is that everybody wants it to be there when they need it, which may be only when the car breaks down, with the result that it becomes unsustainable unless there is a sufficient critical mass to keep it going. This is why government support is almost always necessary in one form or another.

The next difficulty arises from the fact that government support in England stems from the Department for Transport in Westminster, whose staff are almost incapable of envisaging the difficulties experienced by those living ‘out in the sticks’.

Scotland does better on transport policy for sparsely populated areas. In its large land-mass the population is concentrated mainly in the central belt, but the whole population of Scotland is only about half that of London and its surrounding area, so policies have to respond to the need.

A correspondent in Northumberland has taken me to task for my criticism of some heavy goods vehicle drivers in a previous column. I did not invent anything I said, it was all from my own experience and from a recent television programme, and I do realise that it is only some drivers who get the rest a bad name.

I do plead guilty to being largely ignorant of freight transport, so I shall take him up on his kind offer to allow me to accompany him one day.

He also accused me, quite correctly, of having a bias in favour of rail. I have always taken the view that we should utilise the railway infrastructure as far as possible.

Containers enable us to move goods without having to unpack them by sea, rail for the long haul, and road for local distribution. Inland ports, such as the one at Daventry in the midlands, are designed to facilitate this, and there will be more.

Again, Scotland’s lower population density means that it does not have so many congestion hot-spots.

With the ferries to the isles being funded as part of the road network, the concept of integrated transport is better understood in Scotland than in England.

John Wylde is the author of ‘Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp?’ (www.john-wylde.co.uk). This book, priced at £14.95, is available to Berwickshire News readers for £11.95 post paid and signed by the author. Order from the Berwickshire News office in Berwick.