Christine Boston argues that community transport has a central role to play in tackling poverty
Wales is known for its fabulous landscape; its mountains, valleys and coast which provide a beautiful backdrop for the everyday activities that go on for those that live here. If every day was for relaxing and enjoying our spectacular surroundings then this would be in the perfect spot.
However, for many people, a lack of access to affordable transport is a major barrier to finding and sustaining employment. Many residents in Wales experience limited travel choices for connections between villages, towns and cities, meaning transport is often cited as a significant barrier when looking to participate in the labour market.
As a result of my own experiences accessing transport in Wales, I was thrilled to recently join the Community Transport Association (CTA) as its Director for Wales. The CTA is a national charity working with thousands of other charities and community groups across the UK that all provide local transport services that fulfil a social purpose and community benefit. We have around one hundred members across Wales.
Before I tell you more about community transport, I’ll give you an insight into the world in which we work.
When I moved to Wales, I lived in a rural community and so am familiar with the challenges of getting around and accessing work from outside of the city. Looking at the local bus and train timetables, it was easy to see that the public transport offer was not geared towards getting people to work. A journey that took half an hour in the car was more like two hours on the bus and the earliest option arrived into the city nearly half an hour later than many employers expect you to be in work – not helpful for an area of high unemployment.
Although 63,000 people in Wales rely on the bus to get to work, many factors have led to services being reduced and removed in recent years. Where transport services remain, the fares are rising which puts further pressure on individuals, particularly those on low incomes.
The Public Policy Institute for Wales published a report on rural poverty in May last year, confirming what many of us already knew – that ‘an infrequent, inadequate and expensive public transport offer disadvantages people in rural Wales, making it difficult for those without a car to access employment’ placing a ‘rural premium’ on transport services which contributes to rural poverty and leaves people with little options for travel.
However, cost is not the only barrier, it’s also physical accessibility and whether the service will take them where they need to go at the right time.
For those with additional needs, travelling from place to place gets even harder. For example, the Papworth Trust published figures on disability which show 29% of working age disabled people say that a lack of transport is a key barrier to employment. Whilst Leonard Cheshire claim that 23% of disabled people have had to turn down a job due to a lack of accessible transport.
Accessible and inclusive solutions
Community transport is about providing flexible and accessible community-led solutions in response to unmet local transport needs and often represents the only means of transport for vulnerable and isolated people. Significant user groups are older people and disabled people with a majority of services and projects working in rural areas.
These local community transport services play a big part in answering the question of how we can make transport accessible and inclusive for all, so that everything else in life – such as employment – can be accessible and inclusive too. They enable people to feel in control of their lives and stay connected to the people and places that are important to them.
One example of a community transport solution in Wales is the Green Dragon Wheels 2 Work Scooter Scheme which provides a low-cost solution for people aged 17 and over who are struggling to get to work, or to take up a new job. The scheme operates across Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and West Carmarthenshire and has allowed people to take up job opportunities, especially for those jobs that do not conform to normal working hours.
There can be another way for Wales
In tackling poverty, we must consider how we can remove those access barriers that prevent a fully inclusive labour market and ensure that economic participation in Wales is open to everyone wherever they might live, work and travel.
It’s clear from the evidence available and the experiences we hear from transport users that Wales needs more accessible and inclusive passenger transport system. We need local networks that are well-connected and affordable in order to mobilise the workforce and achieve a vibrant economy.
Solutions also need to be built from the ground up. This means building on existing assets and capacity within communities so services are rooted in the experiences of people who know their local patch and the priorities and will ‘go the extra mile’ for their neighbours. This is something CTA’s members across Wales can confidently claim as one of their many qualities.
We know we’re not the only people who care about these things so if I’ve said anything that strikes a chord with what you are trying to achieve through your work please get in touch.