This category is designed to reward schemes that encourage or promote the use of bus services in rural areas, demonstrating how buses in the countryside can improve people's lives. Entries cover a wide range of actions, including:
- enhancing the attractiveness and use of existing services
- innovative service designs and marketing
- the provision of tourist-oriented services.
For many reasons, the versatility of the bus needs to be exploited in rural areas. Minimising the environmental impacts of increasing leisure and tourist travel is an important consideration. Then there is the need to provide access for local residents who do not use cars; in many of our scenic and tourist areas, services can help to alleviate traffic congestion in scenic areas and around tourist attractions, or allow others to access to the countryside without the burden of a car.
Although many rural bus services will always require external support, nonetheless they must be shown to represent value for money and tested against alternatives. Entrants were therefore required to include evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of their project. Entries were received from operators, local authorities and others specifying and securing services, partnerships and tourist agencies.
Winner: Norfolk Green - Rural Growth Toolkit
The paucity of bus services in the area before Norfolk Green was established meant that West Norfolk offered close to a blank canvas to re-invent the bus. With Rural Bus Service Grant funding, Norfolk Green applied commercial thinking to the routes it won, developing a toolkit used subsequently to upgrade other routes resulting in a 12% fare-paying passenger growth per annum and improved profit margins. Judges considered that this entry exemplified how careful route design, effective service monitoring and responding to local feedback can develop markets which in some cases had been allowed to wither both before and after deregulation.
Norfolk Green, benefiting from an injection of resources through Rural Bus Service Grant, has applied commercial principles both to the initially funded routes and others. Their toolkit includes service design, fleet replacement with accessible and environmentally friendly vehicles, pricing, partnership working, marketing and promotion.
Runner-Up: WY Metro - Service 923
Metro has continued to develop rural service 923 since it first started, as a market day only service for the towns of Otley, Ilkley and Tadcaster, in 1999. Local consultations and partnership working has resulted in sustained passenger growth, justifying an expansion in the days of operations and destinations served.
The development of this service through strong partnerships, careful research and well-targeted marketing impressed the judges as justifiable use of public funds to sustain rural life in the first instance, offset by revenue earned commercially from effective marketing.
From small beginnings the service has been developed into a cost effective (though not yet commercial) daily parcel-carrying service improving social inclusion and access to services for small communities, encouraging urban dwellers to enjoy the countryside, feeding other public transport services and providing links to tourist attractions, particularly Harewood House. Usage has increased eightfold in 7 years and is expected to pass 32,000 in 2007 and subsidy, at £1.85 per passenger trip, represents good value for money for providing access for rural communities.
Highly Commended Stagecoach Fife/Fife Council - Go Flexi (F1/F2)
Go Flexi is the branding for a number of demand responsive services in North East Fife. Stagecoach services F1 and F2 are conventional services that can divert from their normal route to serve 'FlexiPoints' when required in response to telephone bookings. Service frequencies have increased and as a result access and social inclusion for remote settlements have improved and a commuter market is developing. Integration with other services includes a guarantee that blast buses will wait for late running trains.
The judges commended this entry as a well thought through use of resources to increase the sustainability of conventional services serving small, remote communities.
Stagecoach Warwickshire - Route 63/64
Routes 63/64 have seen passenger growth of 120% in 6 years. This has been achieved by targeted marketing, the introduction of low-floor buses, significant service level improvements and a good working partnership with Warwickshire County Council. These services connecting villages and small towns to Leamington Spa and Rugby are subsidised by Warwickshire.
The objective was to enhance the services by improving frequency and accessibility; longer term it is hoped the services can be developed so that the level of subsidy can be reduced. Judges noted the clear objectives to increase frequency using accessible, environmentally friendly vehicles and strong local marketing to offer an attractive alternative to car travel. Through good network design and promotion cost effectiveness has been improved and revenue more than doubled in 6 years.
The City and County of Swansea - The Lliw Link Service
The Council wished to improve public transport in the Lliw Valley, a rural area north of Swansea. A new integrated network catering for all needs including schools and hospital access was designed and a new contract was let including the acquisition of new vehicles. Opportunities for leisure and tourist use have been incorporated into a marketing campaign that includes strong local branding.
The Lliw Link network of bus services has radically improved public transport in the rural area to the north of Swansea. With Welsh Assembly Transport Grant funding, the Council has acquired four new accessible liveried buses to operate a completely new schedule of tendered bus services. Passenger feedback has been very positive with strong patronage growth in the first year of operation.
The judges felt that the approach adopted was good, and noted the network increased patronage by 50% over the previous less well- co-ordinated tendered services.
Translink & DRD - Rural Rovers
The innovative Rural Rover services in Northern Ireland provide essential bus services for the rural populations of Newcastle and Fermanagh. Both services link into main bus stations to provide wide ongoing access for rural residents. The services however are operated differently as the service in Newcastle operates as a 'flexible transport linear service' while the Fermanagh-based service is a 'DRT area service' and a unique joint operation between the community transport sector and Translink. The project uses Translink's well-established operational and marketing skills bolstered by best practice from elsewhere in the UK in respect of flexibly routed and DRT services.
Rural Lift, a community transport operator, provides the daily scheduling and control for the DRT service. As might be expected, the flexibly routed service is financially sustainable, but the cost of the DRT is high. However, in the opinion of the judges, more work is needed nationally to establish a sustainable base for DRT, taking account of the considerable cross sector benefits this mode of operation can achieve for other areas of public expenditure.