A thriving bus service would transform rural constituencies like mine
We live in a divided land – and those divisions are holding back our children, our communities and our country.
When campaigning across Selby and Ainsty in this summer’s by-election, I grappled with the sheer scale of my constituency. From rural villages in the south which look to Doncaster and Pontefract, to prosperous villages in northern Ainsty which view Harrogate and York as their centres of gravity.
One issue, however, unites our communities unlike any other – the appalling lack of public transport, which leaves our residents isolated and holds back our prosperity as a region.
Rural communities rely on their cars. It’s why my constituents are so concerned about rising fuel costs, and why it’s more important than ever that we back British-based firms making the transition to electric vehicles. However, there are a significant portion of my constituents who live without use of a motor vehicle and instead rely on public transport to see friends and access public services.
In Selby and Ainsty, being able to get a frequent and reliable bus to where you need to go is fast becoming a fantasy, and it is forcing elderly residents to battle a cruel form of social isolation. This is especially so for older women, who have often lost both their spouse, and their link to the outside world. The result is loneliness in the purest sense of the word, and the joy of living in a beautiful part of the world is reduced to little more than entrapment in the hamlets, villages and smallholdings which they call home.
Mindful of these stories, I invited Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh to my patch. Her bus tour of the constituency went some way toward demonstrating the scale of the challenges we face. A week before polling day, Louise arrived in the picturesque village of Thorpe Underwood. Upon her arrival I had to break it to her that, for all its rural charm, the village lacked one integral amenity – a bus stop.
After a 30-minute walk to Little Ouseburn – a village which boasts a comparatively generous service of six buses a day – Louise’s journey commenced. The 20 miles she travelled took no fewer than four hours.
Buses aren’t glamourous, but they are the lifeline of rural communities and elderly residents like mine who often don’t feel heard in our national conversation. They are sustainable, and are a vital part of our national infrastructure, tackling social isolation, improving health outcomes, and forming the golden threads of economic connectivity between rural communities.
When I asked the government how it is improving bus services in my constituency, it pointed to investment in local transport authorities and the £2 fare cap. What is apparent to me and my constituents in villages like Eggborough, Carlton and Hensall is that lower fares are no use for communities which have barely any bus service at all.
A Labour government would reverse the Conservative ban on municipal bus companies and give bus infrastructure the political attention it deserves. It’s only through this that we’ll enable local authorities to run bus services in the interests of those who use them, and properly tackle the loneliness and social isolation which blights so many in constituencies like mine.
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