My parents never owned a car. Living until they were 90 and 87, I think a big part of the reason for their longevity was that they travelled everywhere by bus and other public transport. Living on Tyneside, our family benefitted from the introduction of the Tyne and Wear Metro.
I remember travelling to school in 1979 using a single ‘Transfare’ ticket, readily used on both light rail and bus. Public transport worked in the 1970s.
Trying to do our bit
When I first moved to Wrexham in the 1980s, one of the first things I noticed was how bad public transport was. There were virtually no trains, and not enough buses. And that was before the full impacts of privatisation of the bus and then rail network kicked in.
On moving to Llandegla, a beautiful village in North Wales, in 2020, I found one of its many advantages was a bus service – albeit very limited. It ran every two hours, and never on a Sunday, but it was a bus. I used it to travel to Wrexham and we went down to being a one-car family. We wanted to do our bit.
Then, this month, they took our bus away.
The fragmentation of public transport
It made national news. No one can believe it. At a time when we are all exhorted by governments, in Wales and across the UK, to use public transport more, it was taken away.
The commercial operator, Arriva, blamed the 20mph limit in Wales, but that was nonsense. We have had 20mph in the village for years, and anyway there are myriad ways to change the service. But no one consulted us.
It seems that we can do nothing about it. Denbighshire County Council did not tell anyone. The Traffic Commissioner approved the cut. The Welsh Government has plans to ‘franchise’ bus services, but has done nothing in this Senedd term. No one in England understands what is happening with public transport like buses, except that there are fewer and fewer of them, especially in rural areas.
For me, this was the last straw.
For the last 20 years, under all shades of government and throughout the time I was MP for Wrexham, I campaigned for improvements to rail transport in Wrexham and Flintshire, having seen the benefits good public transport can bring. Everyone in our region thinks development of the Wrexham to Liverpool line – an artery linking industrial estates, retail centres, towns, and cities, and joining into the Merseyrail network – is a great idea. But governments in London and Cardiff have refused, repeatedly, to support it with investment.
The North Wales Transport Commission, set up by the Welsh Government, reported in December. It wants an integrated transport system in North Wales. Don’t we all? The UK government says it will use money from scrapped HS2 projects to electrify the North Wales Main Line. Forgive my scepticism, but I recall the Tories’ announcement of the electrification of the mainline to Swansea over a decade ago, and that never happened.
If we are to challenge climate change and use public transport more, it has to exist. Governments talking about better services but never supplying them are what we are used to in North Wales. And now they have even taken our bus away. Talk is cheap. If a public transport system could work in the 1970s, why can’t it now?