Disabled inventor says rural bus services are leaving South Cambridgeshire residents isolated
As discussion around franschising continues, Stephen Keane, of Landbeach, says some routes won't work in private hands
An inventor left disabled by a hit-and-run driver in the United States has spoken out at the bus services in rural South Cambridgeshire.
Stephen Keane, 56, who lives in Landbeach, believes it is time buses were put back in public hands to protect vital services to villages.
He uses the bus to reach the doctor’s surgery in neighbouring Waterbeach, but there is only one direct daytime service, which is run by Stagecoach.
If he travels on into Cambridge, he has to wait until 6pm to get a bus back to his home village.
“I’ve lived here about 15 years and it’s got appallingly worse,” said Stephen.
“There’s no consideration for old people who have to make their way to surgeries. I’m disabled and have to make my way to the doctor’s. I have to leave on a bus at 9.30am and if my appointment is 2.15pm I have to spend the day on a bench, whatever the temperature.
“It’s horrible. They are cutting off all the surrounding villages. What is going on?”
Meanwhile, he believes the stop serving Cambridge North is under-used.
“Nobody gets on there or off there. What a waste. It was ahead of its time. Meanwhile, they are denying the transport of local services,” he said.
Mr Keane, who invented a range of lawnmower attachments and has US patents to his name, was born in Northampton and grew up in Ireland before emigrating to America.
“I was knocked down by a car in New Jersey. I was in a hit-and-run and the driver left me for dead in a road in 1989. They didn’t catch them,” he said.
“I spent six months in a coma and was in a wheelchair for seven years. I broke my legs. My left leg is like Swiss roll after all the breaks.”
While he is now on his feet and can walk the short distance to the bus stop in Landbeach, it is two miles to his nearest shop.
He believes the problem lies in the fact that bus routes are in private hands.
“Not everything can be at a profit,” he says.
It is an issue raised by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Commission in its review published on September 14.
It recommended that the mayor of the Combined Authority should use his powers to introduce bus franchising to help students get to school or college and help reduce the isolation felt by the elderly.
The Bus Services Act 2017 grants mayoral combined authorities the right to apply to the Department for Transport for power to determine the services provided in their area, including their routes, frequency and standards. London already uses franchising and Manchester is considering following suit.
Andy Campbell, managing director of Stagecoach East, argued that the process would not help restore routes like those that would help Mr Keane.
He told the Cambridge Independent: “Historically rural bus routes have been supported by local authorities because they don’t carry enough passengers to cover their operating costs, and therefore aren’t commercially viable.
“In recent years, the funding to local authorities has been cut by central government and they don’t have the funds for what used to be classed as ‘socially necessary services’.
“We are happy to provide quotations for tendered services if the local authority deems these services to be necessary. The issue of franchising will not change this situation because public money would still be required to subsidise rural routes.”