Transport has a major impact on rural communities, both socially and economically. Having access to a vehicle, be it a private car, motor cycle, van, bus or any other mode of community transport is a necessity to enable normal daily living in the 21st Century. A lack of adequate and affordable transport can affect people’s ability to:
- attend college, job interviews and employment
- comply with welfare benefit conditions (e.g. ‘signing on’)
- budget effectively by being unable to shop around for essential goods, such as food or petrol
- attend GP or hospital appointments which in turn has a financial impact on health services through ‘Did Not Attends’
- maintain family and social networks, so important in combating loneliness which in turn adversely affects an individual’s health and wellbeing (for example, socially isolated and lonely adults are more likely to undergo early admission into residential or nursing care)
When a population is widely dispersed across a large area, it can create difficulties in accessing services for example supermarket or fuel deliveries and essential medical supplies and equipment. Communities in rural West Somerset are particularly isolated; in parts of Exmoor households can be on average around 40 minutes by public transport from their nearest food store and 50 minutes from a GP.
Barriers to Housing and Services is one of the seven domains which make up the DCLG’s Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). The IMD ranks all areas of England in terms of relative deprivation, down to small geographical areas (LSOAs). In respect of barriers to housing and services, Somerset has three of the top six ‘most deprived’ areas (from a total of 32,482 nationally), all of which relate to West Somerset. For further details, see our webpage on IMD in Somerset
As may be expected, car ownership is high in rural Somerset (see map below, and more detail on our dashboard) with around half of households having at least two vehicles. Accessibility may be a particular issue however for the one in nine households in rural Somerset who have access to one car/van or no vehicles at all.
Proportion of households with no access to car or van
Source: ONS Census 2011
Older People and Rural Transport
Older women are particularly affected by a lack of transport, especially if they outlive their partner as they are less likely to drive a car. In Somerset, the female to male ratio of non-car ownership for the 65+ age group is around 3:1 across all three rural-urban classifications, with rural towns marginally the higher ratio and urban the lowest (see table below)
While older people (and those of other ages, too) are less likely to have access to private transport if they live in towns, there are nevertheless around 2,700 women and 900 men aged 65 or over living in rural villages with no access to car or van, which can often contribute to increased social isolation and poorer wellbeing.
Older people (aged 65+) with no car, by Rural-Urban classification
||Female 65+ No car
||Male 65+ No car
|| % Female 65+ No car
||% Male 65+ No car
| Rural village and dispersed
| Rural town and fringe
| Urban city and town
% based on those living in a residential household, not communal establishments.
Source: ONS Census 2011
In June 2015, the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK) and Age UK published a report entitled „The Future of Transport in an Ageing Society“?. Using results of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (2012-13), findings include:-
- Those aged 65 or more living in rural areas are only half as likely as those in the same age group in urban areas to use public transport at least once a week.
- The 70-74 age group is more likely than other age groups to use public transport: 20% do so in rural areas and 38% in urban areas.
- Older people living in rural areas do not use public transport because it is less convenient, infrequent, does not go where they wish or is simply not available. In contrast, amongst older urban residents, poor health and mobility are more likely to be barriers than problems with frequency, availability or destinations.
Tackling rural isolation in Somerset
Much of rural Somerset relies on voluntary and neighbourly transport provision in the form of community car and moped loan schemes and informal lifts. By its nature these services have little or no strategic co-ordination, and there remain many gaps. Bus companies provide services where these are profitable or where they receive public subsidies to compensate. Here are some facts and figures about rural transport in the county:-
- 88% of Somerset's roads are categorised as 'rural' (3,714 miles), compared with 78% in the whole South West region and 64% in Great Britain.
- Almost 2,000 rural students rely on a County Ticket in order to reach college by bus, and the current non-discounted cost is £650 a year. Some FE Colleges offer a discount to rural students.
- Between April and December 2014, 48,175 passenger trips were undertaken on Somerset County Council's 'Slinky' demand responsive transport (DRT) service in Somerset, for a mixture of health, shopping, education, employment, recreational and leisure reasons. From May 2015, the vehicles will serve specific parts of Somerset’s districts on set days of the week, rather than working on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.
- Many other residents are served by altenative self-funding community transport schemes
- Almost 127,000 concessionary tickets were issued in 2013/14, the majority (122,000) were age-related and 4,600 disablity-related.
- In 2013/14, 4.1 million passenger bus journeys were taken by concessionary pass holders, although not necessarily on rural routes
Total Transport Project
the Department for Transport's Total Transport Pilot Fund awarded Somerset CC £305,000 towards the development of a transport information, journey planning and booking web portal. This is intended to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all passenger transport related services in Somerset and provide functionality to journey plan with ‘alternative’ transport such as community transport and community car schemes, as well as public bus services. Other features include a ‘noticeboard’ to assist with car sharing and to facilitate individual transport requests to operators, online applications for concessionary passes and county tickets, and an interactive map.
The Total Transport web portal will contribute to tackling rural isolation by providing improved access to information on alternative services, many of which operate in rural areas affected by a lack of public bus services. It will also capture valuable information on the passenger transport network and demand across different services and geographic regions, providing operators with statistics to facilitate better service coordination and evaluation. Development is soon to commence, with an estimated launch date in Autumn 2018.