UPDATE: 16th December 2016
I am pleased to say that further to my post below, a temporary reprieve has been granted to the 747 bus service. Leicestershire County Council and Rutland County Council will each contribute £40,000 and £20,000 respectively to make up the £60,000 in subsidy that Centrebus require to continue operating the service for another year. The subsidy secures the service at its current frequency until January 2018, and local people are expected to work in partnership with Centrebus (and other operators) with the aim of devising a long-term strategy for operating the route on a commercially sustainable basis.
Whilst this update is positive news in the short term, the uncertainty over the future of the route will not be conducive to generating new growth going forward. As a non-car user seeking to relocate to Leicester I would not be searching for houses along the A47 corridor, and if I was a regular user of the service I would probably start to actively seek alternatives. Local Authorities and bus operators must understand that for a bus service to be successful the provision of a service alone is not enough; current and prospective passengers must be confident that they can rely on the service in the medium to long term. Otherwise we will continue to see bus usage decline along these important but low-density interurban corridors.
Concerns have been raised in part of rural Leicestershire this week after local bus operator Centrebus announced that their 747 bus service (Leicester to Uppingham via the A47) will be withdrawn from early January next year. The service is the only link between the town of Uppingham (population 5,000) and Leicester, and the majority of villages it serves do not have any other bus services. This means that its withdrawal will leave a significant gap in that part of Leicestershire's public transport network, rendering a number of people isolated in their villages.
This is merely a local example of a concerning national trend, which has been ongoing for many years. The continual reduction in service levels in rural areas and along interurban corridors has been occurring since well before the bus industry was deregulated in 1986, but now that entire communities who live on strategic A-roads are at risk of being left with no bus service the problem has become even more severe.
What is clear is that for some areas the current method of providing rural public transport is not able to meet the needs of local stakeholders whilst also being financially sustainable. Fixed route, scheduled services offer customers certainty on when they will be able to travel, and permit a turn-up-and-go approach to travel (albeit not at typical turn-up-and-go frequencies in rural areas), whereas Demand Responsive Transport services require pre-booking but do offer scope for flexible scheduling and routing, delivering improved vehicle utilisation and increased accessibility.
With continual improvements in technology, I can see a time when the majority of rural transport will be provided through a demand-responsive model, with transport supply meeting the volume and type of transport demand as closely as technically and economically possible. For now, though, we must watch this space and hope that communities along the route of the 747 are successful in persuading their elected representatives to subsidise an alternative bus service.