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2/9/2021 - Action plan aims to halt the decline in rural/island bus services

HITRANS, the regional transport partnership for the Highlands and Islands, is drawing up an action plan in a bid to halt the sharp decline in the use of bus services in rural and island communities, which has been heightened by the impacts of Covid-19.

 

The Partnership wants more funding from the Scottish Government to be targeted on sustaining rural and island bus services and believes that lessons can be learned from the pandemic to tailor future services more closely to the needs of local communities, with major input from community transport groups. 

 

Specifically, HITRANS is advocating the reinstatement of a Rural Transport Fund and the Regional Transport Partnership capital passenger transport grant to support improvements to infrastructure and public transport capital assets including within the community transport sector.  Also recommended is the introduction of an Enhanced Demand Responsive Transport funding stream – managed at Regional Transport Partnership level and developed collaboratively with local authorities and community anchor groups.

 

Partnership Board Chairman Councillor Allan Henderson will be writing to Michael Matheson, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity, Scottish Government, to recommend the new measures to better support rural and island communities which he says have been hit hardest by the pandemic and which are not eligible for much of the existing and new support for bus services. 

 

He said: “Many residents who were very reliant on subsidised local bus services and Community Transport for access have become increasingly isolated through lockdown and the Covid experience, and we now have the challenge (with partners) to support these residents, often younger residents and older people, to become socially active again, to regain their mobility and improve their wellbeing. This is a major challenge for the coming months and years, and one in which local bus services and Community Transport should have a significant role if it is supported. This is a prime example of where transport affords benefits far beyond transport itself, benefitting wider health and social care services.”

 

Covid-19 had seen the adoption and welcoming of more home working and working closer to home within community hubs, both across the public and private sectors. This presents the opportunity to reshape rural bus services and community transport with the right financial support package.

 

He added: “There is potential to benefit from community involvement on the back of the strength of the community response through the Covid experience – growth in, and growth of, Community Anchor Organisations with a will to shape and deliver change and services within their communities. This could be captured through the development of targeted funding for rural and island areas focused on delivering across all four of the National Transport Strategy priorities -  reducing inequalities , taking climate action, helping deliver inclusive growth, and improving health and wellbeing.

 

“There is a real opportunity in the current context to deliver services in new ways, using technology as well as community involvement, to inform good service design and delivery for the years ahead.”

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