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Local transport services are helping keep Co-op members’ communities connected, but two thirds of members think that they don’t fully meet their needs.
Members have been joining in to share their experience of local transport services, as we in the Co-op Foundation (the Co-op’s own charity) set out to explore whether our investment could help community-run transport services do more to keep people moving.
The Foundation helps disadvantaged communities to overcome their challenges by working together to make things better. We’ve been working with Co-op members to explore opportunities to help communities sustainably improve the places, spaces and services they care about, from parks to community centres and housing.
Here’s what we heard in our latest survey, looking at transport:
- Members are using public transport to access shops, social events, leisure activities and work
- A third of members feel that their local transport meets their needs well – they told us about friendly drivers and regular, affordable services
- However, two in three say that their public transport services do not meet their needs, or only just do so
- There’s a chasm between the job transport is doing in large cities, which tend to be well served, and smaller towns and rural areas where it’s much harder to get around
- Members recognise that poor public transport leads to more cars on the roads and increased pollution
- Some shared serious concerns about cuts that have seen transport services reduce in recent years, and many talked about services that don’t run at the times they need them
- Those who don’t use public transport themselves because the services are inadequate, are concerned for their older, unemployed or disabled neighbours who are more reliant on it
- Accessibility was highlighted as a problem on both bus and train services
- There is a lack of integration in services, people are unable to save by getting weekly tickets because different bus companies do not accept the same tickets
Some members told us about local community schemes that fill gaps in provision, such as volunteer drivers taking people to hospital appointments, but this is not always practical in rural areas with fewer volunteers available.
Next steps for the Foundation
Who knows what the future will bring for transport services, as ministers contemplate ‘Uber-style’ rides replacing buses, while Uber itself may start to face new challengers from the co-operative movement.
What’s clear from our survey is how important good, affordable local transport is, and how a lack of it can hinder access to work and social activities. Members have generally seen services reduce and prices rise. Although community initiatives can address this to an extent, they struggle to fill such large gaps.
In our initial scoping of the community transport sector, we haven’t so far identified groups who are ready to take on the level of investment that would be needed to genuinely and sustainably transform local transport.
We’re not going to give up though – we want to help communities find new ways to keep people and places connected. In 2018 we will continue to explore the challenges and opportunities for growing community transport, and how the Foundation can work with other partners to support this sector.
Head of Co-op Foundation