Will these Councillors vote against “a fully commercial” service?

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

I see from the Advertiser that “Councillors in Haydon Wick have been lobbying to stop changes being made to a vital (bus) service in their area”. David Renard said that “it is unfortunate, especially for the elderly who have no other way of getting from Larchmore Close to Broadway where there are a number of shops, three churches and a post office”.

Rex Barnett said that “Thamesdown Transport did agree to review the new service and might reconsider.” Sadly that seems unlikely given the “commercial” nature of the decision. We shall see.

The headline that “Councillors fight to keep bus services” seemed a bit inaccurate since David said that the change was being made for the benefit of “the vast majority of passengers”. In fact the changes are being made for “commercial” reasons – they are “following the money”. They are the result of the Conservative Group’s proposal to turn Thamesdown Transport into “a fully commercial” service.

There’s the rub. “Commercial” decisions have social consequences for people who do not have other transport or are disadvantaged by age, disability and impaired mobility.

If the Council votes to support a “fully commercial” service then there will be more decisions which will have negative consequences for those who lack a car, or the mobility that most of us have. It would seem a contradiction for David and Rex to “fight” to keep bus services and to vote for the Council’s proposal for a “fully commercial” service which will downgrade the social and environmental aims of a municipal bus service. Can we look forward to them voting against the proposal?

Although legally Thamesdown Transport does not have to consult on changes to “commercial” services, it really ought to make a commitment to consult on changes to find out what the social consequences will be. The Council is supposed to be concerned with supporting the independence of elderly people and preventing social isolation. It cannot do that if it moves to a “fully commercial” service which will keep more and more people confined to their homes, or if they have access to cars, will push them off of the buses and back into cars. After all, in its Transport Strategy in 2009 the Council did recognise that the growth of Swindon will create more congestion and more pollution unless they can encourage the population out of their cars and into public transport.

The Council said in 2009 “We will help plan and deliver service improvements…Measures will focus on improving the affordability, convenience and attractiveness of public transport.”

Unless they abandon their proposal for a “fully commercial service” then “the convenience and attractiveness” of public transport will worsen rather than improve.

Martin Wicks

Chair, Parks & East Walcot Forum

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