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Calls for urgent reform of bus services left ‘in a state of despair’

AMBITIOUS plans to regenerate tired town centres will fall flat without reliable public transport, Caerphilly Council has been warned.

The council is preparing to launch a public consultation on its Greater Blackwood Masterplan in early 2024, seeking to “stimulate economic, social and cultural activity” around the town.

But a councillor from a nearby ward has warned that would-be shoppers will be cut off from Blackwood without more reliable bus links.

“We’ve got to get people onto buses and into Blackwood,” Cllr Jan Jones said. “The problem is the buses don’t turn up.”

A senior council officer agreed the bus system in Wales was “in a state of despair”.

Councillors Jan Jones (left) and Janine Reed. Credit: LDRS

Cllr Jones said problems with the reliability of bus services were “unbelievable in this day and age”, adding that it was “like a celebration if somebody can actually make it to Blackwood and get home [to her Ynysddu ward] again”.

Issues with public transport mean people “can’t give up a car down our way,” she added.

The council’s masterplan for Blackwood is primarily a planning document, but Cllr Jones told officers at a recent meeting the strategy should also “take a look at public transport”.

She and fellow Ynysddu councillor Janine Reed had received “dozens and dozens of complaints” about bus links, which they have passed on to the council and Welsh Government, she told a council committee.

Mark Williams, Caerphilly Council’s corporate director for economy and environment, said the local authority had held a “crisis meeting” with the government about bus travel, and while no decisions had been made, he warned the future of buses was “not going to be good”.

The bus industry was in “a real mess”, he added, with firms heavily reliant on government funding because passenger numbers had failed to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“The bus industry in Wales is in a state of despair, and frankly is in a mess,” Mr Williams added.

Committee chairman Gary Johnston told colleagues “we are all affected by this”.

“It is not good that our buses are going backwards, not forwards,” he added. “We’re trying to get people out of cars, [but now] we’re pushing them back into cars again.”

The Welsh Government is currently working on new legislation to re-centralise the nation’s bus services.

Last week, deputy minister for climate change Lee Waters said there was “overwhelming support” for reforming bus services, and claimed the current “privatised” model was “broken”.

He said: “Despite the additional funding we have made available, we still face a challenging combination of rising costs and suppressed demand, and this has led bus companies across Wales to cut back on routes and service frequencies.”

Mr Waters added: “Ultimately, we need wholescale reform, network planning, and an operating model that puts passengers and public interest before profit.”