Bus Back Better will get the county moving again - John Hart
Councillor John Hart
- Credit: Archant
Travelling by public transport in London and other densely-populated big cities is much easier and cheaper than in a rural county like Devon.
That’s mainly because of the economies of scale and the distances involved.
But the county council has got exciting plans to try to narrow that gap and we’ve been discussing the details in Cabinet.
The ambition is to upgrade services and cut fares. We hope to achieve this by making use of Government cash from its post-Covid improvement programme, Bus Back Better.
This aims to make buses cheaper to use, greener, more frequent and more reliable. Our proposals are being developed in partnership with Devon's bus companies and we are bidding for £34 million to improve services with an additional £7.5 million which would be spent on bus priority measures in the main urban areas like Exeter and Exmouth to speed up journey times.
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Even during austerity, the county council has always been a strong supporter of public transport and we managed to maintain financial support for our buses when other councils were cutting funding.
Covid has changed thinking on so many different issues and we believe this is an exciting and ambitious opportunity to put local bus services at the heart of the future transport network in Devon.
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Transport is Devon’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and accounts for 31 per cent of the county’s emissions.
But it’s no good trying to persuade people not to use their cars in a rural county like Devon when there’s no real alternative. If we can improve the bus network and cut fares then I’m sure people can be persuaded to leave their cars at home and that will only help the county council's commitment to be net carbon neutral by 2030.
Even now buses are the main form of public transport in Devon which provide services to a large range of people - many of whom don't own cars or have any other means of transport.
We believe a successful bid for this extra Government funding will provide a quantum leap in how the bus service operates in Devon in the future.
It’s a virtuous circle. Improve local services, cut fares and make bus travel better value. It becomes a more attractive option which leads to an increase in passenger numbers.
Our plan calls for greater integration with the rail and coach network in Devon and greater cooperation with other neighbouring councils to recognise that journeys often cross geographical boundaries.
Obviously, there’s a long way to go but the first stage has already been achieved with the county council and local bus operators agreeing to work towards an "Enhanced Partnership".
We will publish a Bus Service Improvement Plan by the end of October and then stage detailed public consultations from November to January.
We are also working with the bus companies to ensure more vehicles are zero emission although this is clearly more difficult in Devon than in a city because of the mileage range that is required.
You will be able to see in detail how our plans would improve services in your area during our consultations but they include a new service from Exmouth to the Exeter growth point, more direct journeys from Seaton to Exeter, improved frequencies between Honiton and Taunton with an extension to Taunton station and a new link between Cullompton and Honiton station.
We also aim to work more closely with Devon's flourishing community transport groups.
It will be a win-win if we can enable people to travel around Devon more cheaply and more efficiently and, at the same time, cut our emissions.