Charity Sustrans warns transport poverty 'excluding' disabled people and rural areas from society

  • Video report by ITV Wales journalist Ian Lang

As people search for affordable ways to get from A to B amidst a cost of living crisis, a gear change away from 'car culture' is taking place.

Schemes like an on-demand bus service called o Drws i Drws on the Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynedd are giving people a cheaper option to transport. Something invaluable to those living in rural areas who must travel to access essentials.

But not everyone has access to an initiative like this.

Sustrans Cymru, a charity that promotes walking and cycling, said people are being "excluded from society" because of a lack of local accessible and affordable transport services.

A report published by the charity found those living in rural areas of Wales - and people living with a disability, older people and those from an ethnic minority group - are disproportionately affected by transport poverty.

One way to tackle the issue of transport poverty, Sustrans Cymru argues, is investing in public transport and active travel.

The o Drws i Drws service is run through an app, where customers can book their journey. It also offers low cost car share and hire options.

It was set up by Transport for Wales, working with local authorities and bus companies, during Covid as a way of getting key workers to their jobs.

But now the scheme is continuing to help the community get around on a budget.

"Transport is key to independence on the Llŷn Peninsula," explained Wil Parry, project director.

Mr Parry said: "It's an idea whose time has come without a doubt. And the unfortunate circumstances of the price of fuel and price of electricity, cost of living in general, people are looking for alternatives."

One of the main attractions to users of the bus scheme is the cheap price.

One rider said: "It's a fairly cheaper option of travel and it's very convenient with the app on your phone, anyone can use it, any age really".

Another agreed: "It's very reasonable the price and you get company on the bus as well so it's a win win."

The o Drws i Drws can be booked through an App on your phone or device.

And a low price point is key when household bills are increasing.

According to Sustrans Cymru, fuel prices have risen by less than 10% over the last decade while ticket prices for trains, coaches and buses have increased between 33% and 55%.

A report published by the active travel charity found the cost and accessibility of transport is being felt most harshly in rural communities or in areas where people are living on lower incomes.

They also found some groups of people - like women, ethnic minority groups, children, older people and those living with a disability - are also disproportionately affected by transport poverty.

The Director of Sustrans Cymru said the last 20 years have seen a decline in the number of buses on our roads.

Christine Boston, Director of Sustrans Cymru, said transport is "fast becoming a luxury for those who can afford it" and means many are missing out on opportunities.

Ms Boston said the consequences of not being able to use affordable transport means even a basic standard of living gets more difficult.

She explained: "When people don't have access to transport they are excluded from society.

"There's a whole range of opportunities and services that they are unable to access and it is important that this is addressed.

  • "It's going to destroy their social life": Disability rights campaigner Josh Reeves explains how lack of access to transport can affect people with disabilities.

"It means things like older people struggling to access healthcare, finding it more difficult to get to hospital appointments.

"It's children who can't participate in after school clubs because they can't get home, it's young people who can't get to training and it's people with disabilities who can no longer get to work."

She added: "Buses have been on the decline.

"There are 18% fewer buses on the roads today than there were about ten yeas ago and that means that 12% of our communities have no local transport services."

  • What can be done to help?

In terms of a solution, Sustrans Cymru says all local authorities should make active travel "an urgent priority" and make it easier for people to walk, wheel and cycle.

They also want to see more investment in public transport, particularly in those areas most affected by transport poverty, recognising that it is "an essential public service".

Embedding the idea of '20-minute neighbourhoods' - where everyone can access their basic day-to-day services within a 20 minute walk, cycle or public transport route from where they live - at a local and national government level is another way Sustrans believe the issue can be tackled.

The Welsh Government said it is investing in public transport and is committed to helping those on lower incomes access these services.

Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters said: "Our new transport strategy published a year ago put delivering social justice alongside tackling climate change at the heart of our approach.

"Since then we have frozen road schemes with a view to shifting investment into public transport and we have just published plans for a radical new law to shake-up the bus industry in Wales.

"With an estimated 80% of bus users entirely reliant on public transport we are determined to invest more in services that help people on lower incomes to get around in a way that is affordable and convenient."