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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 October 2006, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
South East: On the buses
Trudi Davies
The Politics Show South East

Rural bus stop
In some parts of Sussex, passengers are as rare as buses

Everyone's got a bus story!

Where I live, the main gripe is the cost.

In Eastbourne, if you read the letters page of the local paper, it's the decline in the service since the Council became involved.

In Robertsbridge they are furious at the cutbacks to their overall service and in Crawley, if the Horley Residents Association survey is to be believed, the average number of people per "Fastway" bus at peak times is... one.

Of course we could all heed the advice handed out by Margaret Thatcher as she deregulated the buses 20 years ago.

In 1986 she famously said: "A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself a failure."

There are many that would argue that if a 26 year old of any gender found themselves on a night bus in a rural part of Kent or Sussex, that could be regarded as a triumph rather than a failure.

Worthy of a victory lap round the bus station singing "things can only get better..."

The myth

Buses
The cost of fares on Brighton and Hove buses was pegged back by the public

So, if only we could go back to the good old days when buses ran every 5 minutes and fares were 2d wherever you went...

But a report by the Confederation of Passenger Transport, due out on Thursday, entitled "Exploding the Myth", puts the brakes firmly on that nostalgic view.

They are adamant that there never was a golden age of buses, in fact they claim that 85% of the decline in bus use occurred before deregulation not after, and that passengers get far better value for money and far more buses since deregulation.

They might disagree in Brighton and Hove.

Here, a campaign by readers of the local paper has forced cuts in ticket prices.

So many people wrote to complain about price increases last month that the company has slashed the peak time central zone flat fare by 70p.

But, by and large, Brighton's buses are a success story.

There is only one bus company in the area and they have a very good working relationship with the local authority.

It is because of this, bus passenger numbers have increased 5% a year for the past 13 years.

Eastbourne has a number of bus companies and ironically some of them say this is actually worse for passengers with rival companies cherry picking the most profitable routes.

This causes problems because they are sharing the passenger numbers and sharing the profits.

The result? No-one makes enough money to subsidise the less frequented, but equally vital services; night buses, rural links, etc.

Community connections

Derelict shop
Diminishing services can result in dereliction

In East Sussex there are 25 bus companies covering the area but only 8 of these are commercial operators.

The remainder are funded by East Sussex County Council or neighbouring authorities.

These community style buses keep the rural communities linked to the towns and the council spends around 2m a year supporting the service.

The council say that they are simply plugging the gaps but they have no opinion on whether buses should be re regulated or left as they are.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons for a lack of joined up thinking in many areas.

The bus is sexy..?

Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for Transport
Douglas Alexander is driving the government's deregulation forward

Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for Transport is pledging a new dawn for buses which East Sussex might have to subscribe to.

He is expected to promise in the Queen's Speech, on 15 November, that local transport authorities will get "real powers" and bus services will "work in every community", as Labour's much touted partial deregulation gets underway.

With this in mind, we set Paul Siegert a challenge this week.

He is definitely the wrong side of 26, but can he travel across our region by bus?

On his journey he will talk to people who run them and travel on them - we will see what sort of a picture they paint.

Join us live on Sunday as we take our very own double decker bus to a village on the East Sussex - Kent border.

We will be inviting pro and anti regulation representatives aboard to talk about what makes fares fair, and how to keep the buses rolling for everyone in the region.

Also on the programme...

Village life or death?

Rural Post Office
The rural Post Office is pivotal to the community

Buses are often described as a lifeline for villages, along with village shops, post offices and schools.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about the Government's scheme for building sustainable communities, particularly in relation to the two designated areas in our region, Ashford and Thames Gateway.

Ashford alone has a budget of 1.6bn to regenerate and build a community where, "...people want to live and work, now and in the future". But is there the same commitment for rural areas?

In the second part of the programme, Paul jumps on the bus to meet the people of Matfield, a rural community on the Kent-East Sussex border.

Like many villages in our region, Matfield has been forced to reinvent itself in order to maintain services and a sense of community.

The funding question

But the process has forced the villagers and the Parish Council to consider many thorny questions about funding and public money.

The village shop shut its doors for the last time over a year ago, but at least the post office is up and running again after a two year closure.

At one point, the Parish Council considered asking the County Council for money to subsidise a village shop, but as Mrs Edmeads says, "How can we do that when my husband's village butchers has to stand and fall on its own merits?"

The Post Office is now combined with a tea rooms in an effort to maintain it as a viable business, but Mrs Thompson the postmistress points out that it is a struggle: "If it wasn't for the young mums selling stuff on e-bay I don't know what we'd do."

But a recent editorial in The Argus newspaper asks just what is it that villagers want?

Community changes

Village pond
The village idyll often belies the reality

Clearly many people want to live in them, just look at the property prices.

Many have computers and can work from home.

And of the people complaining about the closure of the local store, how many actually do their shopping there other than the odd pint of milk or paper?

If the computer is used to order the food from a large supermarket which is delivered to the door, is there really a need for either the bus or the shop?

In other words, all communities have had to change over the past 20 years or so, why should villages be treated any differently?

If you have an opinion on village life or bus services, we would like to put them and your questions to our live guests.

Please text or email via the link below.

Please text to let us know your experiences on the regions buses and whether you think we should spend taxpayers money on sustaining our rural communities.

Text us on 07786 209252 or e-mail us via the link below.

The earlier we receive your comments the more likely we are to get them on air. You don't have to wait until the show has started!

War Memorial survey...

Following last week's appeal for information on the state of the regions War Memorials, Cllr Graham Gubby e-mailed to tell us about an unusual and neglected memorial at Ticehurst.

As Remembrance Sunday approaches we want to find out about the state of the region's War Memorials. If you pass one every day, help to maintain one or have one in your town please email Liz at the Politics Show office at

or write to us - the address is below...

Health and Safety gone mad?

Later in the run we will be looking at the huge amounts of health and safety rules affecting all aspects of our lives - in Hythe, hopes of a November 5th with a bonfire have been extinguished due to health and safety fears.

Please contact Liz if you have any similar stories to tell...

or write to us at...

Politics Show, Lambent Productions, The Media Centre, 21-22 Old Steyne, Brighton, BN1 1EL

It is easy... ...to take part in the show. If you have an idea for an item, want to make your own report or simply want to comment on what we are doing then please get in touch via the link below.

The Politics Show South East

Join the Politics Show team on Sunday 29 October 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.


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13 Oct 05 |  Politics Show

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