Bus plight for Darby and Joan
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Report on old people's transport problems
by Derek Moses • Rising fares; one-man buses; infrequent and inconvenient services; withdrawal of services in rural areas; and poor driving standards; are all causing a great deal of concern and hardship to old people and the disabled.
Their plight is described in a report "Age concern on transport" from the National Old People's Welfare Council, which contains evidence gathered from old people's welfare committees, and members of old people's clubs who completed NOPWC questionnaires. The report also contains the results of discussions between a number of organizations to try to find solutions to the problems, including some strong comments from the Transport and General Workers' Union.
Returns from 28 county borough committees and 145 old people's clubs represented people in urban areas, while rural transport problems were recorded by 33 county old people's welfare committees and 117 clubs.
The problems recorded by clubs in urban areas (total respondents 1890) were, in order of importance: Fare increases 1397 74 per cent Design of vehicles 839 44 Infrequent or inconvenient services 646 36 Withdrawal of services 611 32 Driving standards 407 22 Time and time again old people say that they cannot afford high fares, and many examples of hardship are recorded. For example, some old people can only visit their clubs once every second week, instead of weekly; a shopping visit to the town centre can only be made by giving up lunch, and visits to friends are becoming very irregular. Yet these are the very journeys which are practically, socially and psychologically necessary to the old.
After high fares, the next worry is clearly high steps. As buses often cannot reach the kerb, an already high step becomes almost impossible. This problem has, of course, been aggravated by the switch to o-m-o on many services. CM has kept in the forefront of the campaign for lower steps, and we cannot understand why an extending step, fitted beneath the vehicle and only projecting when the doors open, has not only been sanctioned, but made compulsory long ago —it is a common feature on Continental buses.
In rural districts the greatest worry is, of course, the withdrawal of services (actual or threatened) and 24 of the 33 county old people's welfare committees put this problem top of the list. Nineteen listed increased fares; changes leading to real inconvenience (12); and design of vehicles (9). Only a handful of the 1262 respondents from clubs were content with the bus services, and the rest expressed serious complaints, divided between: Inconvenient or non-existent services; and high fares.
Again, many cases of hardship are recorded, the main theme of the evidence being "Elderly people are virtually prisoners to their immediate neighbourhood." In Norfolk, 30 villages are reported to be without a daily bus, and the report states that it is probably no longer possible to replace an unremunerative rail service by buses.
Of really serious concern is accessibility of medical services in rural areas. In one village a visit to the doctor's surgery involves a walk back of 34miles as there is no suitable return bus. In another case, a visit to the chemist costs 36p; the bus leaves at 8.15 am and returns at 4.35 pm, so old people have to spend the day there. Many people who require regular medical treatment are simply doing without.
The irony of the situation can be summed up in the words of one county organizer: "Old people now bear the burdens of the changes of travel fashions made possible by a prosperity for which they laid the foundations."
In order to place the needs and problems of old people in a wider context, discussions took place with members of a number of organizations, including the London Boroughs Association; London Transport Executive; Passenger Vehicle Operators' Association; Public Road Transport Association; Rural District Councils' Association; and the Transport and General Workers' Union.
The solution to the problem of higher fares might lie in the adoption of lower offpeak fares—this would possibly encourage old people to travel more often. However, the report records psv operators as stating that concessions to the elderly would not cover revenue lost.
According to the Greater London Council, fare concessions represent a significant change of principle, since transport has never been considered a welfare service. Transport is, however, essential to the welfare of old people, for whom isolation is a very serious problem (Green Paper—Future of London Transport).
The report goes on to remark that concessions are not available at weekends in all cases—London, for example. Yet it is at weekends when pensioners are likely to be travelling, visiting relatives, going to church or to visit a cemetery.
The TGWU, which recently passed a resolution urging support of its campaign for free travel for pensioners, suggests that the concessions scheme should be nationally financed. In 1966 the LBA suggested that it would be more equitable, and administratively simpler, to finance concessions by exchequer subsidies to the operators.
Turning to vehicle design, the problem is not so much one of high steps as the introduction of one-man buses, where there is no conductor to assist passengers boarding, and the need to have the fare ready is an added hazard. A plea is made to improve the entrance layout, however, and London Transport, for example, has added additional entrance rails on its o-m-o single-deckers; lowering the bottom step is the main priority.
The PVOA acknowledges that a rearengined design assists the fitting of a lower floor at the front, but believes that a rear engine is too far away from the driver to be satisfactory. Reference is made to the new Leyland National bus which should solve some of the problems facing the elderly.
Many old people have been worried by doors closing too soon, while the TGWU dislikes the seating arrangement in many o-m-o single-deckers, where the majority of the seats are at the rear of the bus, and standing passengers obstruct the driver's view of the exit. More "priority" seats for old and disabled people are requested.
To avoid passengers becoming trapped by the premature closing of the exit doors when they are alighting, the TGWU has proposed a locking device whereby, if anything or anyone's arm were caught, the doors would lock Sin. apart, and the gears would also be locked. While many o-m-o buses carry similar equipment, the report comments that it might be worth making it compulsory on all buses.
The TGWU believes that, nationally, employers will not accept that the real experts on bus design are the operators. And the people who know what they want, and in the end pay for it, are the passengers, whose voice seems, in the past, to have been even less often heard, the union claims.
An improvement in driver/passenger relationship is one beneficial factor claimed for o-m-o buses, the report states. It adds that driver/operators seem to prefer their new jobs; provided that they can cope with the small change, they enjoy the greater responsibility.
Surprisingly, the TGWU comes out against fully automatic transmission. London Transport says that it improves the smoothness of the ride, while the union remarks "the less control the driver has, the less smooth the ride".
As for the rural bus dilemma. the report suggests that local old people's welfare committees will certainly be able to play their part. One possibility is for them to arrange "shopping days", while a local voluntary committee could act as a clearing house for private lifts.
("Age concern on transport" is published by National Old People's Welfare Council, 55 Gower Street. London WC lE 61-1J.)