Post bus delivers a rural lifeline

Public sector finance: The Royal Mail is turning its hand to village transport services, writes Paul Gosling

Britain is following the lead of many of its European cousins in bringing post buses to rural areas. They are a cheap and effective means of establishing public transport in isolated areas which gives a profit to the Royal Mail and is popular with the elderly and other non car-users.

The use of post buses is one of the examples of good practice highlighted by the Rural Development Commission in Country Lifelines - Good Practice in Rural Transport, published this month. The RDC believes it is essential that public transport subsidies in rural areas are maintained despite the financial pressures on local government which are seeing many other services cut back in the current round of budget-setting.

The Post Office has established a network of 232 post bus services, covering 3.5 million miles of road, and it is extending the service into more areas where local authorities are willing to provide the necessary subsidy.

Six villages to the north of Lutterworth in Leicestershire have been cut off from daily bus services for many years. Through an agreement supported by the RDC, Leicestershire County Council provides an annual pounds 8,000 grant to the Post Office to lay on a post bus, connecting the villages with Lutterworth for a minimum of five years. A further grant of pounds 4,500 was provided by the Rural Transport Development Fund, which is administered by the RDC on behalf of the Department of Transport.

The RDC grant gave the Post Office half the capital cost of replacing its existing delivery van with a minibus. The Royal Mail retains the pounds 1,400 a year it collects in fares. The county council's subsidy is based on the marginal costs of taking a less direct route when delivering and collecting mail. Each day's journey has an average of four to five passengers.

Rural transport can be improved without new expenditure. Devon County Council spends more than pounds 20m a year in support for public transport, but has achieved savings of pounds 2.5m a year while adding around pounds 1m worth of extra services, through more flexible uses of its vehicles. In the past, separate minibuses were operated as school buses, to take elderly people to day centres and for hire to community groups. This has now been rationalised so that the same vehicles are used for these functions and others, reducing non-use time and giving the drivers full-time instead of part-time jobs.

Four central teams are employed to ensure effective co-ordination of vehicles. The council is committed to retaining a cheap fares policy and to supporting nine dial-a-ride vehicles. To improve Devon's ability to receive so-called "green tourists" the council has also paid for the conversion of some buses to take bikes.

Northumberland council is another that has been praised by the RDC for its rural transport initiatives, including support for taxibuses, run by self-employed local drivers. The main operator, Cross Country Connexions, achieves an annual turnover in excess of pounds 150,000, supported by a grant subsidy and concessionary fares for elderly people. The council has agreed to maintain support at existing levels, rejecting an option of reducing by a quarter financial support for pubic transport because of the authority's weak finances.

Elsewhere councils are making cutbacks, particularly to community transport schemes, which could create problems for isolated villages. Murray Seccombe, advice officer for the Community Transport Initiative, says that many authorities are cutting support by between 15 and 20 per cent. "The number of schemes being lost altogether is pretty low," he adds.

Mr Seccombe says there are particular problems in Wales and Scotland, where the new unitary authorities are strapped for cash and are cutting back support for rural and community transport. "Many schemes are getting short-term funding for just three months or so," says Mr Seccombe.

Elsewhere councils are cutting back on concessionary fares, as with Leicestershire, which has introduced a pounds 25 administration charge for each annual pass. There are additional pressures in metropolitan areas on passenger transport executives, particularly related to extra costs arising from rail privatisation.

It is clear from the RDC's guide that subsidies for public transport need not be expensive, and can be cost-effective if they are carefully planned. Public transport is essential to protect villages as communities. Without it, rural settlements will become overwhelmingly the domain of commuters.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?