Buses For All

by Roger Abbott on 8 February, 2017

Town & Country ServicesOn board a bus

People living in rural areas need buses just as much as people living in towns and cities.

Imagine being near the County Council offices in Kingston. You need to catch the bus to, say, Surbiton. You get to the bus stop to find you’ve just missed one. Don’t worry there’ll be another along in no more than ten minutes time.

Now imagine you’re in Ockley. You need to catch a bus to Dorking. You get to the bus stop to find you’ve just missed one. Here’s the timetable and yes, it is complete and the times of services really do vary according to the day of the week!

Mon
Tue
Wed
Thur
Fri
Sat
Sun
09:41

12:56

18:02
09:56

13:56

18:02
09:41

13:16

18:02
09:41

12:56

18:02
.

13:56

18:02
11:50
no services

 

School Runs

The old school buses have now mostly been converted to regular passenger services and Surrey County Council do at least support a return service from most of the villages that will get pupils to the Dorking schools at the right time. But bad luck if you live in Hookwood, Charlwood or Parkgate: your bus leaves before 7:00 am and arrives at school 1½ hours early. Even worse if you live in Capel, where there is no bus service that fits school times. This is just not acceptable. We need bus services that get our children to and from school without having to hang around at one end or the other for an hour or more.

What about beyond GCSE? Obviously, for those staying on at schools in Dorking the same services apply. But suppose Reigate Sixth Form College is preferred, or East Surrey College at Redhill?
For those who live in Brockham, Betchworth and Buckland, the No 32 goes to the town centre and it is a bit of a walk up the hill (or get another bus) but it is a very early start if your first class is at 9:00 am. After that the service is roughly hourly.
For everyone else, it is a case of “How do I get there?” There is no practical bus service!
So much for education choices!

 

Teenage Independence

When I was in my early teens, there were buses running between the village where I lived and the nearest town. I could, of an evening, go out with my friends into town to the cinema, or just to someone’s house and play records, or sometimes (because one of the cinemas was on the tour circuit) we could go to a concert by the leading pop stars of the day. It was fantastic. I got to see a lot of bands that way, including The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Ike & Tina Turner, … lots of them. Because the last bus back was long enough after the last show finished (or were the shows timed to finish in time for patrons to catch the last buses?) we were always able to get home afterwards.

We were 13 and 14 when this degree of independence was given. Going out like that was all down to me. My parents didn’t chase me to get ready in time to catch the bus, nor would they take me if I missed it. More importantly for us, our parents didn’t arrive at the appointed time to take us home. That not only added to the experience, but it also made us feel more grown-up, more responsible. And it taught us a lot.

Gaining independence is essential learning for teenagers.
Buses can make that possible.
There are no bus services to any of Dorking’s rural villages after 6:30 PM

 

Health Services

There is no direct service to East Surrey Hospital from Dorking or any of the villages to the south and east. What about people with injuries that prevent them driving. Then there are other medical conditions where the doctor will recommend that the patient should not drive. This is especially important for outpatients who may be given drugs that could affect driving ability.

People who cannot drive are severely restricted in their ability to visit friends or relatives in hospital. Some villages run a voluntary car service, which is part of their community spirit. But this is hardly acceptable in the total absence of a public transport service: is it right that people (particularly the older members of our community who may feel embarrassed) are forced to depend on charity and volunteers?

What about a visit to your GP? How many patients use a car when maybe they shouldn’t? For most of us there is no alternative, especially when our local surgery (such as Brockham) cannot give us an appointment and we get sent to an alternate location (such as Newdigate).

Bus services are an essential if everyone is to get fair access to health care services.

 

Loss of Mobility

Good neighbours of ours had lived in Brockham for fifty years when he was diagnosed with a heart problem that meant he could no longer drive. She never did bother to take driving lessons. Suddenly they were not mobile. There are no daytime inter-village services, which turned a visit to relatives living in Leigh, or Horley, or Holmwood into a major expedition. This is a common problem, especially amongst the older members of our communities. It is vitally important for their well-being that they can get out and socialise.
We must provide some form of a “round the villages” bus service. And remember, anybody can suddenly lose the ability to drive a car at any time.

Convenience & Climate Friendly Buses
I could go on about this forever. We all know that the more we use buses and other mass transport to get around, the lower the volume of pollutants we throw out into the atmosphere.
But let’s look at it another way.
Dorking is a real pain in the backside to drive-in, to park and to drive out again. Personally, that means I will often to go to Reigate for shopping rather than Dorking. Sometimes a visit to Dorking co-insides with the bus timetable, and that is when I use the bus. If there was a more frequent bus service to Dorking then I would certainly use it more. Surely I cannot be the only person with this way of thinking.
The absence of regular bus connections to the villages is positively harmful to the economic sustainability of Dorking town centre.

 

The Problem & Solution

Please don’t expect any cheap or easy solutions.
The County Council subsidise the services operated by the private bus companies. Herein lie some problems. It seems quite reasonable that the County Council should refuse to subsidise commuter services. But, as I have shown, that means our children cannot have a proper service to get them to or from school. Most of the traffic problems disappear when the schools are on holiday so we could see huge environmental benefits from the “commuter” but services.
Of course, like other councils, SCC has been forced to save money. This situation is not new and cutting the bus subsidy is an easy way of saving a bit of money. So which services should be cut? why, those that are least used of course! (Really?) With a reduced service, there are still fewer passengers and the service gets cut again next time round. So we find ourselves in a vicious circle of decline. Thus we have arrived at the current situation.
Clearly there is need for a root and branch review of the bus network, how it works and how it is financed. We must take into account the educational and social benefits of an available and convenient bus service to the rural areas. We must also take into account the environmental damage caused by the excessive use of otherwise unnecessary car journeys.
What this review will come up with I cannot say. But I would be surprised if we don’t get:

  • some kind of later in the evening services,
  • some kind of circular route connecting the villages,
  • active encouragement for children to get to school by bus (and active discouragement of car school runs),
  • commuter/school services for all villages
  • connection of the villages to all “out of town” essential services such as East Surrey Hospital.

 

Your Bus Services

Surrey County Council has the timetables for all bus services at:

https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/buses-and-trains/bus-timetables

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