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More bus cuts could prove 'devastating' for rural life

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 14, 2014

The Rural Services Network has called on George Osborne to urgently review the funding of rural bus services

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Further cuts to bus services would threaten to have a devastating impact on rural communities, a leading campaign group has warned.

The Rural Services Network has called for an urgent review of funding for bus services ahead of the Chancellor's Budget announcement next Wednesday.

Local authorities are proposing to reduce their support for bus services by more than £20 million over the next financial year – twice the reduction of 2013.

The warning from the RSN comes amid fears that elderly and disabled people face losing bus services as government cutbacks leave councils unable to fund free travel.

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Rural Services Network chairman Cecilia Motley said buses play a vital role in rural communities – especially for those who don't have a car or other available transport.

She said: "Rather than imposing Draconian and short-sighted cuts, the Government should be investing in the bus sector for the long term.

"Once bus routes are lost they are often gone forever. It can be very difficult – sometimes impossible – to restore routes in the future even if finances improve."

John Birtwistle, projects director of UK Bus for First Group, said while supported services make up a small proportion of the bus network overall, rural communities are highly reliant on them.

Mr Birtwistle said: "Bus operators are working hand-in-hand with local authorities to minimise the impact of these funding cuts and commend this approach to all local authorities."

In Somerset concerns include the loss of transport options in villages such as Chilcompton, Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Holcombe, Coleford, Mells and Great Elm.

Changes link directly to changes to funding streams affecting journeys that are currently supported by the council and not commercially sustainable on their own.

More than 1,400 people, including the captain of Bath's rugby team, Stuart Hooper, have signed a petition after First Bus announced that the 267 Bath-Frome bus will no longer go through the village of Rode from April 13.

First Bus says the changes are being made because demand for services in Rode is low and the alteration allows for the overall journey time to be reduced making the service more appealing to others.

Today, local Somerset county councillor, Sam Phripp, Rode parish council chair, Steve Eyles, and vice chair, Pat Banwell, will meet representatives from First Bus.

Mr Hooper, a father of three, and supporter of public transport, said: "It would be a real blow to us and to the whole village if the 267 to Rode got cancelled."

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