Yes, public transport! Public because it is for anybody and everyone who wants or needs it. Transport because it is about trains and buses and taxis and on-demand cars and even bikes for public hire: whatever. Not just trains then, nor just buses and so on, but all the devices which enable people to get about without using private vehicles.
Public Transport Users? We all need to get about — to work, college, hospital, the shops, for our social lives, for leisure and for much more. For many of us, the distances we have to travel are increasing. For a long time, private motoring offered a relatively cheap way of meeting this need, although for those without cars or for one reason or another unable to drive, it has never been an option.
Whether people have cars or not, the days of cheap motoring are over, while the social and environmental costs of providing for road transport of any kind become ever more apparent. So the need for public transport exists and is growing. Even those who do not use it directly gain from good provision, for the roads they use are quieter and the air they breathe is cleaner. In one way or another, we are all public transport users.
So what is the place for North Devon Public Transport Users [NDPTU] in this? We see that public transport matters. We know that it is paid for, not just by the fares that people pay to use it, but also by public subsidy, out of our rates and taxes. We say that, in principle at least, this is a good thing. Public provision for transport says that our society is more than just a collection of individuals. It implies that our community is the stronger when we have common means of meeting common needs. Supporting it from public funds is something we can all be proud of.
But we are also aware that present provision, especially in northern Devon, is patchy. There are parts where there is little and even more where there is none. There are others where it is relatively good, albeit in a limited way, for the various services rarely link together. For many, getting into and out of the area is fraught with difficulties. Try, for example, to get from Torrington to Torquay and back in a day, as some must for a variety of reasons.
We want to see public transport in northern Devon — Torridge and North Devon — improved for the benefit of as many people as possible. But who identifies where the gaps are? How do we strike a balance between meeting the needs of those who live in or need to get to its heavily populated urban areas and those of the smaller towns and sparsely-peopled rural areas? Who decides where improvements are to be made and what form they will take? How fairly are the public funds that support public transport distributed? Who determines which elements of public transport will be supported and which will not?
Above all, what part do members of the public play in shaping provision? In a democracy, this last question is vitally important. There are competing views about what is needed. Do we just leave matters to elected members, who inevitably must spread their attention over many things? Are they well enough informed to make wise decisions? How can members of the public tell and hold them to account?
At the very least, informed and reasoned public debate is needed about the issues involved. Whether provision is shaped nationally or locally, or jointly between the two, the voices of the public need to be heard. But we see that there is no single organisation that provides a forum for this. So this is where NDPTU comes in. We’re not an official body. We’re not a heritage group, devoted to saving bits of our past, however interesting they may be. We’re not even a conventional pressure group, committed to just a single project. On the contrary, we see ourselves essentially as a think tank, a body committed to looking critically and constructively at public transport provision as a whole in this beautiful and busy part of Devon.
The more who join us in reasoned debate about this vital public matter, the better. For more about what we do and the way in which we work, please refer to the further pages on this website. (Read more: Nature and Role)
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