I was lucky enough to attend the Total Transport North Conference at the National Railway Museum in York recently. The aim of the conference was for the transport sector to come together and discuss the Total Transport initiative.
Total Transport is an scheme devised by councils which involves bringing together the funding and expertise behind a diverse range of transport providers in order to ensure the needs of communities are considered when planning transport services. Total Transport, which takes into account both commercial bus routes and community transport schemes, is only at the pilot stage at the moment (albeit in 37 areas) and the conference sought to discuss the impact that it’s been having in those communities.
Speaking at the event was Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, who talked about the benefits that buses have on communities and how inadequate bus services, especially in rural areas, are of great concern. A strong theme throughout the day, from the Minister’s opening remarks onwards, was that a Total Transport response to these issues had to be conceptualised as something driven from the ground-up and couldn’t just be imposed from Westminster and Whitehall.
Both Charlotte Hughes (our Director of Marketing and Development) and I were involved in the discussion throughout the day, thanking the minister for his support for community transport and welcoming the vision he’d shared for Total Transport. The CTA is keen, we said, to make sure that people in communities who deliver accessible and inclusive transport get to play their part. Later in the conference I also shared our vision for a transport system shaped by strong local leaders, that could inspire a coalition of support in their community for improving local transport, making it better able to meet a broader range of needs, with accessibility and inclusiveness central to this.
Another theme was the greater integration of health with those services commissioned by local authorities, with a big emphasis on improving cost-effectiveness. In one discussion we highlighted the need for these cost effective measures to look beyond savings to transport budgets. One of the things we raised was research done by the CTA which showed that 74 per cent of operators in England ran trips for health reasons but only 24 per cent had NHS funding. This is something that may be cost effective from a health commissioner’s perspective but might not pass that test for others. This gap between those supporting the health service and those being paid for it indicates that relationships need to develop to enable health commissioners to understand the massive savings that could be made through a modest investment in local community transport.
I took the opportunity to ask Andrew Jones how we could make sure that these issues are as important to the Department of Health as they are to the Department of Transport. The minister agreed that making Total Transport work from the ground up was essential and he told us that although conversations with health minsters were important, he believed that it was crucial for Whitehall to get out of the way and let local people decide how their transport should be organised.
The Total Transport initiative is one which is going to significantly shape the way that local transport is run and organised in the future and the CTA will make sure that the voices of community transport operators are heard and listened to. Community transport is part of the solution when it comes to improving local transport and access to health services and it’s vital that the current and future contributions of its members are addressed.
Whilst there is much discussion still to be had, the conference gave us reason to be positive about the future of community transport and Total Transport. We met a dedicated and thoughtful group of people who are all keen to work with the CTA and our members to make sure that community transport is part of the wider solution.
Conversation around Total Transport and the role of community transport will continue at our Westminster Conference on 25 November where Andrew Jones MP will be giving a message. For more information, or to book, click here.