Written evidence submitted by Sherborne Transport Action Group (BUS0002)


The Sherborne Transport Action Group (STAG) aims to improve transport provision for the people of Sherborne and the surrounding villages, particularly to help those without access to a car and to encourage car owners to use other modes.


STAG welcomes all who have an interest in its objects.  Members may include representatives of town and parish councils, transport-related organisations, transport-providers and other interested members of the community.


This document was approved by the committee on email circulation


Over the last year STAG has been closely involved with Dorset Council’s response on the Bus Improvement Plan.  We regret that the process has been back-to-front, in that the Government has required a detailed response from local transport authorities while ignoring the essential need for action by Government on the following key underlying issues:


  1. National Bus Policy is essentially based on the urban context.  The rural bus network operates in a substantially different context which is rarely recognised by policy-makers.  We need Government to take a lead in recognising this distinction.
  2. Local authority funding has been cut to the bone and public transport, as a discretionary service, is always out-bid by statutory obligations particularly social care.  We shall not get a decent bus network until there is assured funding  -  not just a short-term grant, but long-term revenue.
  3. The Concessionary Fares Scheme, while a boon to qualifying passengers, is so structured that the operator is not fairly compensatedConsequently the Scheme is destructive of services which are used principally by concessionary passengers.  It needs fundamental review.
  4. Competition may be valuable in urban areas.  But it gives no benefit in rural areas where it is a struggle to make any service economically viable.  Competition rules should be relaxed so that, in areas with thin services, operators can liaise to make the best use of those which are available.


Without addressing these fundamental issues, the Government has dumped a problem on local authorities while failing to address the underlying essentials.  The consequence of this approach has been that Dorset Council, among others, has spent a vast amount of time in developing a Bus Improvement Plan which defines a control process but is an empty vessel because there is no assurance of funding to provide the buses:


We cite the following specific examples:


In 2016 Dorset County Council (now the unitary Dorset Council) felt obliged to make dramatic cuts to its budget for buses.  All supported services were terminated except for seven principal inter-urban routes.  The villages and small towns suffered accordingly and journeys on local buses dropped from being near the South West average to little over 80%.  We shall not have a rural bus network until the 2016 cuts are reinstated. Without reinstatement of these rural and semi-rural services, it will be impossible to meet the Government’s aim of constraining use of private cars in the area as the distances involved make it the only transport option for all but a few.


The 57 service, coming from Yeovil and serving the centre and west end of Sherborne, was run by First as a commercial service.  It was valued and well-used by mostly elderly passengers.  But the reimbursement under the Concessionary Fares Scheme fell well short of covering costs.  The service was accordingly discontinued in early 2018.


Bus users repeatedly tell us that they would be willing to pay a modest fare on top of the Bus Pass.  They would rather pay something than have no bus.  But the inflexibility of the Concessionary Fares Scheme prohibits any such arrangement.



March 2022