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Developing Transport Service Provisions in Rural Areas



Critically examine the range of approaches that have been used by rural agencies to overcome problems of service provision. Discuss in relation to a specific policy area.

The following paper discusses the range of approaches used by Cornwall Country Council (CCC) to improve its provision of transport services to its rural population, focusing in-depth on the CCC’s support of ‘community transport’ schemes. In the past two decades transport services to rural areas across Britain, as well as in Cornwall in particular, have been in a state of ceaseless decline. Bus and train timetables have been dramatically reduced and made more inefficient and unreliable, and this decline has in turn led to many rural constituents becoming ever more dependent upon private and environmentally harmful transport; at the same time, hundreds of thousands of Cornish elderly people in rural areas have been either totally excluded from public transport services or have found these services to be severely limited. This problem of public transport provision to rural areas has affected Cornwall particularly badly; Cornwall’s geography is diverse and its rural communities are widely dispersed; to meet these communities’ needs the county requires a comprehensive and highly-organized system of public transport that has simply not been present in recent decades. In these years, under both Conservative and Labour governments, a profound lack investment in the infrastructure of rural transport facilities in Cornwall has led to a degeneration of service provision. Moreover, the price of public transport in rural areas, particularly after the privatization of many services, has proved prohibitively expensive for many people. Recent efforts to alleviate this problem have centred upon a reinvestment of resources, and it is the work of this essay to consider the ways in which this money has been invested in Cornwall. On April 1st 2006 the CCC launched its Countryside Concessionary Fares Scheme (CCC, 2006), replacing the Cornish Key Card scheme, and providing free bus travel in Cornwall to persons above the age of sixty and to disabled persons who are resident in Cornwall. The scheme extends across the whole of Cornwall and is co-run in partnership between Caradon, Carrick, Kerrier, North Cornwall, Penwith and Restormel councils. To tackle the problem of the cost of transport facilities the Cornwall County Council has introduced a number of budget schemes to help poorer residents in rural areas. For instance, PLUSBUS is a scheme that allows rural residents to save money by purchasing a combined rail and bus ticket and so make an overall saving. PLUSBUS provides holders with unlimited free travel on any routes within the county of Cornwall. In addition, Cornwall County Council has pledged to provide free school transport to every child of compulsory school age in rural Cornwall who would not otherwise be able to attend school. But perhaps the most important innovation supported by the CCC is that of community transport schemes.

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The term ‘community transport’ is used to describe passenger transport schemes that are owned and registered by local community groups. The idea behind such groups is that each works to solve some of the transport difficulties of a particular village or town or group of associated towns. Numerous such projects have been founded across Cornwall and have thus relieved to a significant degree the service provision pressure from the CCC. The existence of such schemes mean that the council is freer to better use its resources in areas where no such community schemes exist. Community transport schemes are operated as volunteer and non-profit organizations and therefore they have a second key advantage that they do not subject the people depending upon them to financial exploitation or manipulation. Services are not operated because they are profitable, or suspended because they are unprofitable ─ as with transport services run by commercial companies ─ but rather services are operated because they meet a definite need of a particular community or group communities. The attraction of such schemes is that they can be moulded to the needs of a particular community; if only three pensioners in the village of Grisham or Chatham require daily transport to the nearest town, then, instead of being denied service by commercial companies who fear losing money by operating a service for these pensioners, a community transport service such as a single minibus or minivan can be organised at minimal cost to provide service for these three pensioners. If twenty such pensioners need transport then two or three services and minivans can be organized; such schemes therefore have a great degree of flexibility. The additional advantage of such schemes is that they are specifically founded and run to help those persons in rural areas who would not otherwise have access to help.

Of the various community transport schemes run in Cornwall the following are particularly worthy of discussion. Voluntary Car Schemes are, according to the CCC ‘an organized form of lift giving’ (CCC, 2006) where volunteer drivers offer to use their own cars to make door to door pick-ups and returns for people, usually the elderly or disabled, who would not otherwise be able to travel as frequently or freely. Community Bus Services are minibus services run by local volunteer groups operating along regular routes and according to a regular timetable; such services are moreover made available to all members of the general public. Details of such services have recently been published in the All Cornwall Public Transport Guide. Minibus Hire is another community transport service whereby minibuses owned and run by one local volunteer group are lent to other groups either for free or for a very small charge. Many of these vehicles have disabled persons access and can be used for the purposes of leisure, of sport, of education and so on. Dial a Ride is a further community service which provides transport on a door-to-door basis to incapacitated members of the community who register for the service. Shopmobility lends wheelchairs and electric scooters as well as other services to allow the elderly and others to shop for themselves rather than remaining dependent upon others for their transport.

Though not directly in control of community transport schemes, the CCC has recently sought to play an active part in the running and support of these transport initiatives. On its website, the CCC tells that three principal events or ideas have led to this decision. (1) The Council has become ever more conscious of the special transport needs of disabled persons and of the elderly, and has expressed a determination to do more than the basic requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (HMG, 1995) mandatory requirements. The CCC has set as its ultimate transport goal for disabled and elderly people the idea of transport independence ─ an aim that goes well beyond the minimum requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act. To this end, the council has given considerable financial support to Age Concern, an organization which operates a volunteer car scheme across the county of Cornwall. Thus the CCC states ‘This (policy) has led to the development of financial support for age concern in its provision of a county-wide car scheme; greater consideration of a suitable transport provision for all sectors of the community by the County Council and other statutory agencies, which has identified more clearly the opportunities for community transport activity’ (CCC, 2006). (2) Thee national Labour government has provided greater levels of central funding for county councils to develop and improve their service provision to rural areas; the arrival of this money has enabled the CCC to focus greater attention upon rural disability access and upon totality of service provision. (3) The CCC has begun to enter into several partnerships with voluntary agencies, thus providing an extension to their existing transport services. To this end, the CCC has stated that ‘The (Cornwall) County Council recognises that whilst it has a critical role to play in sector development, it is inappropriate and simply not viable for it to be the exclusive agency involved. Consequently, it is looking to develop new partnerships wit both the statutory and voluntary sector, operating at both a strategic and a local level’ (CCC, 2000). This quotation best sums up this significant change of attitude and strategy by the County Council towards the question of rural transport provision. The County Council is admitting that its own resources are insufficient to provide the full range of transport services required by its rural population and so has enlisted the aid of both other agencies and the rural population itself in the form of voluntary transport schemes.

A few points of caution might be given here however to intersperse the many positive notes about community transport schemes given above. Firstly, such schemes, though welcomed and applauded by local councils and official agency organizations are not directly under their control; therefore the regulation of such schemes is far weaker and less organized than official transport services run by the CCC. Concomitant with this worry is another about safety; since community transport schemes are not managed directly by local government they are not subject to the same safety inspections and regulations as official services. Nonetheless, it may generally be said that those running community schemes are responsible members of their local communities and naturally therefore adhere to general laws of transport safety. The other point is that it is a widely held sentiment of those running such schemes that they are having to do so because of the inadequacy of government provided public transport to rural areas. If these services were more proficient and reliable, as they used to be, and as they presently are in many European countries such as Switzerland, Denmark, Holland and elsewhere, then community transport schemes would be superfluous because public transport would be a total provision. Indeed, it is the case that in the aforementioned countries community transport schemes do not exist nor do others like them.

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In the final analysis, this review of the success of Cornwall County Council’s various agencies in improving rural transport provision must end with a note of equivocation and suspended judgement. On the one hand, local agencies in Cornwall have clearly recognised the problem and extent of recent decades of underinvestment in rural transport, and rather than denying this problem or blaming it on previous administrations, they have actually sought to improve those services offered to Cornwall’s rural populations. Also on the positive side the County Council has recognised the needs of the county’s long-forgotten disabled and elderly rural populations and has welcomed the opportunity to implement, and indeed go beyond, the Disability Discrimination Act, in its transport provision. Schemes like the Countywide Concessionary Fares Scheme and PLUSBUS are direct efforts to improve the transport facilities and opportunities for underprivileged people in rural Cornwall; so too the CCC’s pledge to guarantee free school transport for all school-children of compulsory age in rural Cornwall is a crucial and admirable initiative. But perhaps the County Council’s boldest initiative, and the one that signifies a profound change of attitude towards its obligations over rural transport, is that of supporting community transport schemes such as Dial a Ride and Shopmobility. In supporting these schemes, which are not officially under County Council financing or regulation, the Cornwall Country Council has recognised that it has insufficient resources to provide a full range of transport services to its rural population. Such an admission has its positive aspects in as much as it allows the council to contribute to the excellent schemes founded and operated by voluntary groups in Cornwall; groups who have made a very real difference to the quality of transport experience enjoyed by many of Cornwall’s elderly and disabled rural populations. On the other hand, in making such an admission the County Council has also shown its own failure, as well as the failure of successive governments, to properly deal with the national question of rural transport provision, and its particular condition in Cornwall. It is a simple fact that in those countries of Europe which have the highest standard of living, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria would be examples, that community transport schemes are just not necessary because government and local councils are sufficiently funded to provide all such services themselves. Proper and more efficient government allocation and spending of resources in Britain could undoubtedly have led to the same result in Cornwall, and so made the admirable and noble efforts of community transport scheme organizers unnecessary.

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Academic Books, Journals & Internet Sources

  • Cornish Key: Transport in Cornwall. (2006). www.cornishkey.com
  • Cornwall County Council (CCC). (2006). www.cornwall.gov.uk
  • Her Majesty’s Government. (1995). The Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
  • Restormel Borough Council. (2006). www.restormel.gov.uk
  • The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).



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