Policy makers across all Government departments must recognise the fundamental importance of passenger transport for providing access to education, healthcare and employment in all kinds of isolated communities, warn MPs on the Transport Committee.
In a report of an inquiry that examined passenger transport in isolated communities, the cross-party Transport Select Committee warns that neglect of these services will reduce access to education, employment, health services, and other essential services.
Launching the report, Transport Select Committee Chair, Louise Ellman MP, said:
"Old and young, unemployed people, those on low incomes and disabled people who live in isolated communities rely on passenger transport. For example two out of every five job seekers cite lack of transport as a barrier to finding work.
All these groups are disproportionately affected by inadequate or reduced services. It is vital that all ministers recognise the fundamental importance of passenger transport in providing access to education, healthcare and employment."
MPs also highlight how 'isolated communities' are frequently situated in urban as well as rural areas and island settings. Commenting on this Louise Ellman added:
"Policy makers sometimes equate 'isolated' with 'rural' or island communities, but we found that some urban and suburban areas have inadequate passenger transport. The DfT should draft a definition of 'isolated communities' for use across central and local government to target scarce resources in ways that reach all types of isolated community.
We reiterate our long held concern that subsidised bus services continue to disappear as funding is cut. The bus industry must work with local authorities to deliver essential local services through the development of quality contracts similar to arrangements that operate in London."
Need for 'total transport'
The Committee also challenges the Department for Transport's assertion that community transport schemes run by volunteers can compensate for decreased bus services in isolated communities. Louise Ellman added:
"We recognise their value but many community transport schemes are tiny and only serve particular groups in the community. It is unrealistic to expect volunteers to replace local bus services."
MPs highlight the need for 'total transport' - the pooling of existing transport assets to deliver a broader range of services.
"If, for example, hospital transport were combined with local bus services, it might revolutionise services for isolated communities. We want to see the DfT test that concept in practice by co-ordinating large-scale pilot schemes," said Louise Ellman.