The challenge of rural public transport

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We have been out on the road today, testing new sections of route for a local college. They are pro-actively responding to parental requests by introducing additional stops on their home to school transport network and, understanding the difference that high quality transport makes to parents and pupils, they commissioned us to devise service revisions and oversee their implementation.

One particular alteration concerned a request from a number of parents who wanted a route extending from its current suburban terminus, out into the rural hinterland beyond. This particular location, in common with much of rural England, has very few bus services; a subsidised bus trundles through three times a day, providing a link to a local supermarket. The first bus does not arrive until after 09:30, and the last bus of the day finishes its journey before 15:30. As a school child living in this area, your only realistic option for getting to and from school is that of the parental taxi.

We recognised that for our client this did not have to be the case. After some analysis of the local road network, and consideration of four different stopping locations, we identified an alternative route which the bus could take from the depot. This enabled it to incorporate the rural stops with a minimal time penalty, and additional revenue was generated by placing the stops in a higher priced charging zone (in recognition of the increased distance that passengers will be travelling).

The college, which previously would have been out of reach for any pupils whose parents were unable to drive them there, now benefits from a wider catchment area and a larger pool of potential pupils who might consider studying with them. This shows the benefit of a well-designed and efficient school bus network throughout rural as well as urban areas; mainstream rural public transport is typically not good enough for schoolchildren. As such, it is down to the education and transport sectors to work in partnership and improve the accessibility of schools and colleges.