Dorset County Council has underlined its backing for community-run transport links to keep people in rural areas connected.
Community transport such as dial-a-rides, volunteer car schemes and car-sharing can be more flexible for journeys like shopping, healthcare and visiting friends and relatives than fixed timetable, fixed route buses.
Over the last year, the council has provided a host of support for communities to consider and set up their own transport schemes, including:
- Producing a community transport toolkit for communities in Dorset to start up a transport scheme in their local area. Around 350 toolkits have been distributed to local groups including all town and parish councils, libraries and Transport Action Groups (TAGs)
- Offering match-funding community transport grants of up to £5,000 for charities, parish councils and community groups to help launch new transport services. Bridport Town Council has been awarded a grant to fund a feasibility and scoping study for a Bridport community bus
- Attending more than 30 community engagement meetings across the county with councillors, transport operators and local residents
- Encouraging transport providers tendering for school bus contracts to consider setting up community services between school runs
- Supporting new “friends of” groups for communities to take some ownership of and pride in their local bus stops or transport services
- Working with Volunteer Centre Dorset and using social media to recruit new volunteers, giving people opportunities to help their community and be more social
Since April 2016, 20 trial community transport schemes have been introduced across Dorset by a number of operators. Dorset Community Transport’s PlusBus has introduced the most trial schemes. One of the projects ties in with the Thorncombe Community Transport Grant, which is partly supporting their local PlusBus service to boost services in the area.
The initiatives follow the decision by the county council last February to reduce its subsidies for public bus services by £1.5m over two years, in the light of having to save £16m in 2016/7. The council saved £500,000 in 2016/17 by reducing funding for infrequent rural bus services and focusing on services used by the most people.
The council still needs to save a further £1m on public transport, as well as £850,000 on schools transport, in 2017/18 to contribute its overall savings target of £18.3m. County councillors will discuss and set the budget at their meeting on 16 February.
During September and October 2016, more than 2,600 people responded to a public consultation on changes to public and schools transport.
Cllr Peter Finney, Cabinet member for environment, highways and infrastructure, said: “With the financial challenges we face, the current model of subsidised transport in Dorset is unsustainable. We need to focus the available funding on those routes that carry the most people and do most to support our economy.
“We are working in partnership with communities to develop a thriving network of locally-owned transport links across Dorset. In time, we see this becoming integrated with a core number of town-to-town routes, commercially operated services and our own transport fleet to give people a more flexible range of travel options.”
You can find out more about existing community transport schemes in Dorset and how you can start your own one at www.dorsetforyou.gov.uk/community-transport