President's Heartbeat – 26th November 2018

Following on from our work with Somerset County Council Highways, I have now added public transport to my to-do list.  Since the mid-20th century, successive UK Governments have pandered to our love affair with our cars, and continue to kick the can down the road on a ticking time-bomb.  Road traffic systems require upgrading to cope with today’s demands; but ironically, and by the mid-21st Century, our transport needs and means will have changed beyond all recognition.  The advent of driverless, airborne and other technologies, along with a trend towards living and working in town centres will likely witness a decline in the use of roads, just as surely as the railways put the canals out of business in the late 19th century.

If this possible future arrives without prior investment in rural public transport, towns like Yeovil, with out-of-town-centre rail stations and declining bus services into/from surrounding areas, are at risk of becoming isolated, just as surely as the small villages which rely upon larger towns like Yeovil.  Public transport in rural areas is just as critical as urban demand, but for very different reasons.

HM Government focus and funding needs to change; from supporting demand, to cost-effective access – for all - to ensure urban and rural areas are adequately connected.  I have already had informal discussion with one of our local bus operators, which I intend to follow up with SSDC, and have begun a dialogue with South Western Railways, which in 2017, took on the seven-year franchise for the rail services through Yeovil and between Exeter and Waterloo.  Away from London and the Solent, SWR runs a predominantly rural network, and seeks funding to improve services and infrastructure, but currently needs to demonstrate demand to bid successfully for money.

If you feel you are being let down by public transport, don’t knock our rural operators – they are just trying to deliver a service and running a business, with funding based on demand, and which currently comes a poor third to urban public transport and private road travel.  If your business is affected by rising public transport costs and the decline in services, contact me at president@yeovilchamber.org

Released on 26/11/2018