supporting our rural transport systems

A decade of the PlusBus is coming to an end, which is very sad news indeed; it is essential that we recognise the work of the PlusBus committee, who have put so much effort into this service over the past ten years. They have done a fabulous job of keeping this running and have successfully secured three rounds of Lottery funding in order to do so. It is incredibly sad that the committee feel unable to secure a fourth round of funding, particularly at a time when this, of all projects, really is the ‘Big Society’ in action. I am hopeful that the ‘Big Society’ agenda will, in the future, help initiatives such as the PlusBus in terms of breaking down bureaucratic barriers and helping to overcome the demands of the vast amounts of paperwork that have essentially contributed to the PlusBus’ closure.

Above all, this service demonstrates the very urgent need for better rural transport systems, such as the Fellrunner buses of the Northern Fells Group. Community groups in Upper Eden have, I know, been working very hard to try to secure alternatives. Efforts have been put into maintaining a one-day-per-week shopping service, and there has been much input from the committee and the County Council to maintain a service that works for residents. The Rural Wheels and Volunteer Drivers scheme will go some way to filling the void, and – within the Upper Eden Transport Forum – volunteers have already come forward to become volunteer drivers in our villages. GPs have been contacted to ensure that patients make their appointments, and the surgery in Kirkby Stephen has agreed to be flexible in admitting patients whose appointment may not necessarily coincide with the Rural Wheels timetable. These are common-sense solutions made by the community, for the community. The real loss will be the service that the PlusBus provides to and from the train station, but I am encouraged to hear that there are already discussions about the development of a shuttle bus service to and from the station; it is likely that this would be a seasonal service with Rural Wheels and volunteer drivers on hand to service the local community needs in getting to the station. This is without a doubt an issue of major importance, and I aim to put better rural transport high on our list of priorities for the entire constituency, and Upper Eden as a vanguard pilot area for the ‘Big Society’

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