Leaving the car behind

Liz Thorne describes some imaginative alternatives to car ownership in far flung parts of the country

Transport poverty is a hidden cause of isolation and community division in many parts of rural Wales, a problem that can only worsen as rising costs of fuel prices households out of car ownership. However, a new report Making Sustainable Transport Easier for Rural Communities, says there are ways the problem can be tackled.

The report, co-authored by Sustrans Cymru, the Campaign for National Parks and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, finds that most rural households face living costs in the order of 10-20 per cent higher than their counterparts in urban areas, with transport making up the single largest element of these costs. Moreover, up to a third of all households in rural Wales don’t own a car, which can be a major barrier to accessing jobs, education, healthcare and goods.

Providing effective public transport in rural areas is frequently dismissed as too expensive and many planning decisions are based on the assumption that everybody has access to a car. The result is to reinforce a car-dependent society as well as contributing to increased carbon emissions.

However, the report points to a number of examples of forward-thinking local authorities and community groups challenging conventional public transport structures:

  • Demand Responsive Transport systems tailor to the needs of passengers by operating in response to pre-booked journey requests. A successful scheme in Monmouthshire has not only experienced passenger numbers increasing year on year, but has also achieved £80,000 of cost savings for the Local Authority.
  • Traffic-free paths from outlying communities to the ‘hub’ town can create cheaper, safer and more convenient ways of travelling. A new traffic-free path, linking the rural village of Llanyre to the busy market town of Llandrindod Wells, is well used by people walking and cycling to school, to work or for leisure.
  • Car clubs can relieve some households from the burden of owning a car while giving peace of mind that should they need a car to travel, they have access to one. A community car club run in Llanidloes in Powys has not only led to a reduction in car-use in favour of more sustainable modes of transport, but has also led to individual cost savings of up to £2,000 a year.
  • Crucial to tackling carbon emissions is reducing the need to travel. Helping individuals and businesses to minimise their journeys where possible, for example through encouraging home or remote working, is not only more sustainable but can also improve efficiency.

At the launch of the report last week senior politicians from all four major parties and representatives from organisations and agencies discussed these innovative schemes. Echoing many of the recommendations made in the report, they supported the need for a culture-shift in favour of sustainable transport in rural Wales. An integrated and bold approach is needed, not only to break the cycle of car-centric policies, but to support public transport as a a viable alternative.

Liz Thorne is a policy officer with the sustainable transport charity Sustrans Cymru.

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