Last week’s Bwcabus extension launch in Lampeter, with Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Government’s Local Government Minister in attendance, marked the latest stage in what is viewed as the future of Welsh rural transport.
Bwcabus is a Council-run bus service for the rural areas of Mid and South Ceredigion and North Carmarthenshire (see map here). It picks up people who pre-book from their nearest bus stop or, in the case of those with mobility problems, from their homes and connects them to a town or main bus route. Unlike many scheduled bus services, a trip can be booked for any time between 7am – 7pm.
Before going any further, I have to say that I find it almost impossible to have a conversation about bus services without first pointing out that bus de-regulation in 1986 was an absolute disaster and that, if it was up to me, I’d re-regulate the lot tomorrow. But we are where we are and we have to deal with it.
The Transport Act 1985 rules that, when a commercial provider registers a route as commercial, the local authorities have to step away. In areas of low population, with the most popular, profitable routes taken over by the private sector, it then becomes very difficult for a local authority to fill in the gaps between commercial services. At the same time, in rural areas, there are many people living away from the main routes who don’t drive or don’t have access to a car and can’t afford taxis. These people can be left extremely isolated and vulnerable without a decent bus service near their homes and councils have to find a way to provide a public transport service for them.
In these difficult circumstances, devising a traditional service that meets the needs of a sufficient critical mass of people to be anywhere near viable is almost impossible. Any workable solution has to be tailored as closely as possible to the needs of individual passengers. The idea behind Bwcabus is that the best way to do that is to let each user negotiate their own bus times.
Full details of the Bwcabus service in Ceredigion can be found here.