Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Transport is no luxury, especially in the countryside

In modern societies transport is a necessity. We no longer live and work only in neighbourhoods. Access to jobs, healthcare, education, welfare, shops or even just family demands travel. One might even say that transport is an entitlement; but one which for many has become increasingly scarce. So more public transport seems like a good idea. A vote winner. But in reality, whatever form of transport one requires,even if it runs to capacity or pays its way, can it justify its investment?
Those who live in cities or suburbs may think so. Infrastructure and services serve them and may even be taken for granted. Further investment may be seen as desirable to improve on frequency or comfort. But what of those 10 million or so separated from such services because they live some distance from routes and hubs? They (we) pay as high a Council Tax for a fraction of the benefits. No bus; no trains; no access to the essentials of independent living. We are either deprived of something to which we are entitled or have we elected to do without? Perhaps the attractions of rural or coastal life merit such a choice for some but what of others deprived by circumstances of essentials? What of those of limited means? What of those smitten by ill health? What of those incomers seeking more affordable housing? These still need access to all aspects of modern society. Yet for these the very services on which they should be able to rely may be separated from them by distances unbridged by any form of public transport. The first few miles of any journey towards the means to lead independent lives is untouched by investments, services or policy. Cars, private or taxi, are the only means of starting essential travel. The modern world is car-centred, allowing those with the means to move around at will, often in sole occupancy of a vehicle with capacity for several. Most households own one or more cars but how efficiently are most used?
Were transport truly a universal entitlement, networks of small capacity vehicles would circulate among rural communities, picking up and dropping off, enabling all people affordably to access shops, services or other transport services. We must assume, though, from the fact that this is neither the case nor a plan for any political party, that public transport must currently be viewed at best as only an occasional opportunity rather than an entitlement.
It must be time to re-examine just what the role should be for public transport and to whom it may be deemed relevant not only in cities but in rural locations. How can new technologies be brought to bear, for example to facilitate car sharing, locating assets to match needs or summoning vehicles, even driverless ones, to bring all who need to travel to do so. If there were the will, there could be a way.

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