Protests at early loss of novel bus
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Community organisations in the Dyfi Valley are up in arms over Powys County Council's decision to axe a novel bus service - just months after it was set up.
The ‘Book a Bus' T36 serves Llanwrin, Cemmaes Road and Dinas Mawddwy and the T37 connects Forge, Penegoes and Abercegir, Darowen and Melinbyrhedyn with Machynlleth. These latter villages have had no other bus service at all since the Post Bus was withdrawn.
Powys County Council announced last week that the Saturday services will be withdrawn immediately and the others from September 2008. Protests from the community have led the Council to say that the Monday to Friday services may be retained if more people use the services and if sufficient financial savings are made during the summer.
Machynlleth & District Local Community Forum say they are very disappointed with the decision to cut out these innovative and flexible services before they have had a chance to get into their stride.
Ecodyfi's Co-Chair Aled Griffiths said, "The loss of these services will be a heavy blow to the villages concerned and flies in the face of Powys and Wales policies to integrate and promote public transport. It will force people back to relying on the private car - if they have access to one. With rising fuel prices this will hit their pockets, but also fuel climate change, as more vehicles are driven around with only one person in."
CAMAD's Manager, Linda Hayward, emphasised the social value of the service. "There has been a lot of demand for the service," she said, "and it will be severely missed, especially by residents who don't drive, and can't afford a taxi into Machynlleth to get their shopping, or to meet up with friends. You can be very isolated if you live in the sticks and have no means of transport."
A regular user, Duncan Bamford of Melinbyrhedyn, said the main point was that it wasn't given a fair chance. "I hope that Powys County Council reconsiders this decision." he said. "Cost cutting is all very well, but cutting a vital rural bus link is a real backward step, especially in this climate of rising fuel prices. Us 'youngsters' can get on a bike if we need to get to Machynlleth to catch a train or get to a meeting, but there are no alternatives for many people," he added.
The Chair of the Local Community Forum, Andy Rowland, explained the background: "The Council came to us in 2005 because it wanted to consult local people about transport services. We established a Dyfi Transport Forum, consisting of bus and rail users and providers, plus community support organisations, and this helped the consultants appointed by the Council to review services.
We already knew that there was a crying need for affordable transport options in the villages around Machynlleth. This had been one of the main findings of the 2004 Transport Needs Analysis funded by the Bro Ddyfi Communities First Partnership, who act as the core group for the Forum.
The review took a long time, but we were delighted when it eventually led to the establishment of the demand responsive "Book a Bus" services in the Dyfi Valley, which started operating in autumn 2007. The bus only runs if it's needed, because people have to book a place at least two hours in advance, even though the runs use scheduled times and routes.
There were teething troubles resulting from poor prediction of journey times and vehicle availability, but once the timetables had been revised, the service proved to be a life line for many residents. Poor access to services was, after all, one of the main reasons why the locality was designated as a Communities First area. The taxi services are very good, but expensive for people on low incomes wanting to get to shops or just to have a social life. The community transport services are also brilliant, but are not available to everybody or for every purpose.
Unfortunately, it was left to CAMAD and the Forum to publicise these new services. Ecodyfi included them in its invaluable Dyfi Travel Guide but Powys didn't provide any advertising money. Despite this, the buses have been used and appreciated.
People need time to get to hear about new services and how to use them, particularly if they are novel. We appreciate that the Council is under financial pressure, but urge as a minimum that this cut is postponed by at least 12 months and a proper review of costs and benefits is undertaken during 2009."
Andy Rowland, Chair of Machynlleth & District Local Communty Forum and ecodyfi Manager: 01654 703965
Linda Hayward, CAMAD Manager 01654 700071
Wyn Lloyd of Lloyds Coaches, service provider 01654 702100