A Map of All the Community Bus and Train Partnerships in the UK
Public transport budgets are under attack both in cities and rural areas. A new way of engaging the public to use local trains and buses that saves money for the local authority is being pioneered in certain parts of the UK and gaining in popularity. Community partnerships mean less cost and a better service.
For the first time, here is a map (right - click for a higher-res version) that shows all of the community rail and bus partnerships in the UK. The rail section of the map is sponsored by train operator Abellio and provided by ACorP (see below), on to it I have added the location of the bus partnerships so far in existence.
It shows the huge growth of community rail in the last two decades and underlines the success of community rail partnerships in bringing life back to rural and local lines.
Community Rail Partnerships
Community rail partnerships were first developed in the mid-1990s and became UK government policy in 2004 with the launch of the Community Rail Development Strategy. Since then they have grown enormously and have helped revive the fortunes of many railway lines.
Either run entirely by volunteers, or by volunteers in partnership with operators and local authorities, they encourage the maintenance of stations and publicity about the service. The picture, right, shows volunteers of Cromford community rail group on an event to beautify their station (credit: Neil Mickelthwaite of East Midlands Trains).
The partnerships come together under the umbrella of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP), whose General Manager, Neil Buxton, says: "Community rail is a great success story for the railway industry. By bringing communities, local authorities and the rail industry together we're helping rural and local rail services improve the quality of life for communities, by regenerating rural areas and providing access to jobs and social infrastructure."
There are now almost 50 such partnerships throughout the UK, and several have been inspired in other countries including in Washington area, USA, Holland and India.
Community Bus Partnerships
Community Bus Partnerships are much more recent and modelled on the rail partnerships. I have only been else find out details of four in the UK so far.
They are an alliance between the municipal authority, the company delivering the service and local residents. The service's customers, its passengers, promote the service within their community and their feedback on how it should be improved helps to shape the service.
In Leicestershire, the County Council has found that its Community Bus Partnership is expected to save about one third - over £500,000 - of the previous cost of supplying the previous service. Its Environment and Transport Overview and Scrutiny Committee are using feedback to improve ten supported bus services.
In Sheffield, the partnership is a joint initiative between South Yorkshire Passenger Transport (SYPTE), TM Travel, Sheffield City Council and local residents. It has increased usage of the service by 117% and a single bus service now carries over 1,600 passengers a week.
Called the 'People's Bus', the No.4 service was scheduled for withdrawal last year so few people were using it. Following consultation with the community and customer feedback, the service was retained by the Sheffield Bus Partnership when it began work in October 2012.
The buses are often painted in distinctive livery (right) and driven by a small number of regular, friendly drivers who build up a rapport with their customers.
Residents along the route promote the service by distributing timetables to local households and through community communication channels, and contribute to how it can be made even better at drop-in sessions and through on-board comment cards.
In Sheffield, the bus partnership has been such a success that a special newsletter has been launched and distributed on the bus to keep customers up to date on the service's latest developments and news.
The newsletter also fosters community engagement by including news of community events, shops and businesses, as well as publicising walks and local points of interest.
The bus partnership's Deputy Interim Director General, David Young, is enthusiastic about the scheme: "The community's involvement in the development and promotion of the No.4 bus service is making a valuable contribution to its growing success. By listening to customer feedback on the service we are able to work together with them and the bus operator to continue to make direct improvements as a result.
"This is a much more positive way to protect local bus services than the traditional 'use it or lose it' type campaigns of the past. The opportunities the Community Bus Partnership initiative is presenting are exciting, and we hope to expand the scheme to include other bus routes, where the community want to work with us."
In some places bus partnerships are run by volunteer drivers. This includes the Isle of Wight, where a company, Southern Vectis, took over a number of routes previously operated by another bus operator, Wightbus, managed exclusively by the local authority, which found that its 13 local lines, school buses, and services ferrying disabled adults to day centres had become uneconomic to run.
The replacement service is a community partnership with the Isle of Wight Council and town and parish councils.
Finally, in East Sussex in the south-east of England, a small community bus partnership service is run by the Wealden Bus Alliance, a Community Interest Company, that connects visitors from local mainline railway stations to the heart of Ashdown Forest. Its aims are to promote the greater use of existing sustainable public transport, and to encourage the introduction of new routes and services.
The partners involved are Wealden District Council, Cuckmere Bus Co, Wealdlink, East Sussex Bus User Group, Southern Railway, and the Town Councils of Hailsham and Crowborough. Wealden District Council provided a grant of £5000 to get the project up and running.
Barry Marlowe, chairman of the Wealden Bus Alliance, said: "Visitors can get off a train at Uckfield, East Grinstead, Eridge or Tunbridge Wells, and catch a regular bus to take them to various destinations in the Forest. They can then catch another bus from the same spot to take them back to the station, or use another service to take them to a different mainline station. The stops are at various cafes, pubs and attractions, making for an enjoyable day out. These exciting travel opportunities have been be possible through the commitment of the bus companies: Compass Bus, Metrobus, Brighton and Hove Buses, Stagecoach, the community bus partnership Wealdlink; and Southern Railways to provide a better service for the public."
It remains to be seen whether community bus partnerships will achieve the same level of success as community train partnerships in the UK, but their pattern of development is similar at this stage in their history. What they need is more support at a policy level from government.
With particularly rural bus services suffering from cuts in the form of reduced subsidies to operators, they provide a viable model for reviving threatened bus services. Since they have many ancillary benefits related to sustainability such as reduced emissions from car use, tackling isolation and community enhancement, they deserve to thrive and grow.