My wife and I are the proud grandparents of an eight-year-old. With my wife being retired, childcare during the school holidays is often left in her very capable hands.
My wife does not drive. School holidays often mean days out, especially during the summer holidays. Unfortunately, the costs of public transport, especially the service running through Widdrington Village, can be crippling.
To give you an example, a trip into Morpeth to visit Carlisle Park would cost £6 return adult fare and £3.60 return child fare. That makes a total of £9.60. The distance from Widdrington Village to Morpeth and return is 16.8 miles. The cost per mile is therefore 57p.
In contrast, a trip to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle results in an adult return fare of £7 and a child return fare of £3.60 making a total of £10.60 — £1 more than the return trip to Morpeth. The distance to and from is 44.4 miles. The cost per mile is therefore 23p.
Compare those trips with the overall running cost of an average family car costing less than £13,000 and fuelled by petrol, which is 29.3p per mile, (figures based upon AA running costs), and it is easy to see that using public transport between Widdrington Village and Morpeth is uneconomic.
The point of origin is taken to be Widdrington Village, but no doubt similar issues are experienced in other rural locations around Northumberland
This highlights a number of issues.
Deregulated public transport operators in rural areas can manipulate fares to make a route uneconomic to run and then blame the local authority’s inability to subsidise it for its withdrawal.
How does an average rural family of modest means afford days out during school holidays? Even where entrance to an attraction is free, the costs of public transport alone can prevent the outing from taking place.
It is cheaper to travel into Morpeth by car than by public transport. Common sense can see the need for more car parking spaces in Morpeth town centre.
Mile for mile it is more cost-effective to travel into Newcastle by public transport than it is travelling into Morpeth by public transport.
As stated above, the overall fare of one adult and one child on a return journey to Newcastle exceeds that to Morpeth by £1. The number of free attractions in Newcastle to amuse children, especially during inclement weather, will draw families away from a day out in Morpeth. That would impact upon local businesses as any sundry expenditure normally associated with a day out would be in Newcastle.
I am aware there are some independent operators trying very hard to provide services to those areas that the larger operators have abandoned and their fortitude must be commended and supported.
Northumbrians must ensure that local public transport is accessible and affordable.
Often those who need to use it the most are also those who can least afford to.
Both local and national politicians must not swayed by any other influence, save for that of the people they have been elected to represent.
The needs of Northumbrians must be paramount in their thoughts and come before those of any political party to which they are affiliated, and certainly before those of the shareholders and officers of large organisations.
It’s time for the dog to wag its tail and not the other way around.