An important theme for active communities, from Age UK’s Agenda for Later Life 2015 report, is how integrated services can improve the lives of older people. Following this theme, the idea of ‘total transport’ aims to bring together central and local government transport budgets and improve the deployment of buses, hospital transport, school buses and a variety of community transport. It allows vehicles to be shared and coordinated more efficiently, following broader transport objectives. However it isn’t a replacement for adequately funded transport services.
In the context of cuts to transport subsidies, will this approach help to meet the needs of older people in isolated areas? Will it allow comfortable and convenient journeys to hospital or GP appointments? To help answer this question the Department for Transport (DfT) has provided £7.6m to 37 total transport pilots in England. We should know more at the end of the 2 year funding period.
Age UK argues that regardless of the approach taken, there should be a clear obligation on local authorities to identify the transport needs of vulnerable groups and to guarantee these needs are met. In isolated areas this could be achieved through community transport, taxis, and buses. Total transport should allow a more flexible and efficient approach that combines and deploys a range of different services.
However, the idea of total transport needs to be set in the context of the overall funding and regulation of local transport. The spending review means a 37% reduction in the DfT budget by 2020. A recent report by the Campaign for Better Transport shows cuts of £73m in supported bus services in England and Wales since 2010/11.
This has resulted in 2,400 services being reduced or withdrawn altogether. On a more positive note, the Government has maintained an important subsidy called Bus Services Operators Grant (BSOG). Cuts to this would have contributed to a further decline in bus services.
Under the Buses Bill some authorities including Greater Manchester, Cornwall and Sheffield, will have more scope for taking an integrated ‘total transport’ approach. The Minster, Andrew Jones MP, says the Government will also consider offering additional powers to other local authorities. Given this the prospects of total transport working for older people looks good – but only if authorities have the core transport resources required to assemble an integrated service in the first place.