ONCE upon a time I lived in London, having gone there for university, then working and starting a family – 17 years in all.
Having recently spent two weekends there visiting my eldest daughter, I found myself reflecting on how it has changed, especially in relation to transport. It’s probably still as congested as in the 1980s and 1990s but cleaner – the LEZ and ULEZ appear to be having an effect. And the driving seems less aggressive – the vast 20mph zones do seem to be working.
But it was in the realm of public transport that things appear to have progressed the most. I used bus, underground, overground and even SWR over the two weekends and found them a joy to use. Apps and information boards give you both route planning and real-time information, the transport was clean, the services very frequent and payment is completely contactless everywhere.
Back in the day with a young family living in North London, we basically never drove anywhere apart from a weekly jaunt to a semi-distant supermarket, but the experience now seems more integrated and usable. I didn’t, however, raise enough courage to try the ubiquitous electric scooters.
All of which highlights just how poorly served most of the Dorset Council area is by public transport. Services have deteriorated rather than improved over the past decade. Real-time information boards at stops around Weymouth installed for the 2012 Olympics have become next to useless. Bus operators cease services, citing unaffordability exacerbated by free bus passes, while Dorset Council continues to pay the bare minimum required for their use. Even within our large population areas, services have been cut. Evening services are virtually non-existent, which means you can get into town for a night out but not get back!
What we have is, as recently highlighted by the DC portfolio holder Cllr Bryan, is a rural bus service not fit for purpose. Yet it’s apparently not the council’s fault but central government failing to provide funding. However, funding is available, but Dorset Council failed in its bid for the government’s BSIP Bus Back Better scheme.
The impacts of this situation are manifold. Lower income families cannot take advantage of lower rental costs because there is effectively no public transport for much of the county. People who’d prefer to use bus or train are forced to drive.
My other daughter lived in Wareham last year and worked as a doctor in Dorset County Hospital – she had to buy a car and learn to drive because after seven years of cycling in Nottingham and London, she found the commute too dangerous on two wheels, no bus service available and the trains were frequently cancelled!
It’s difficult to see how this is going to improve unless Dorset Council reimagines and invests in public transport. The mooted ‘dial-a-bus’ seems unlikely to be viable but at least the £2 bus fare scheme has been extended.
If using a bus is an option, maybe you might make a difference by taking it.
On behalf of South Dorset Lib Dems