Headlines: January 22nd, 2004

More than 20 million pounds is being allocated to projects to improve bus services in rural areas around the country, giving local people better access to essential services and facilities. In all, 42 projects will benefit. The awards follow the more than 19 million pounds announced last week for 40 projects under the Urban Bus Challenge scheme.The biggest single payment – just over 1.1 million pounds – goes to Lincolnshire Interconnect, to extend an already successful project and provide a new route serving Mablethorpe, Skegness and Boston, linking with existing inter-urban services and expanding demand for its responsive CallConnect service.

Schemes highlighted in the announcement include Gloucester Taxi Link, a taxibus service linking three areas to the Business Village in the Forest of Dean and a wheel-chair accessible taxi service into Stroud and Cirencester. It gets 730,900 pounds. Others, such as Essex- Tendering Community Transport, Southern Derbyshire Rural Access Initiative and the Church Stretton Ring and Ride scheme in Shropshire, which are designed to improve access to health services.

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael said the diversity of the projects that were receiving funding showed how wide was the range of transport needs in rural communities. They also underlined the importance of flexibility so that solutions could be determined at local level.

The funds are in addition to last month’s Local Transport Plan settlement in which major bus schemes in Northampton, West Yorkshire, Manchester, Coventry, Milton Keynes and Cambridgeshire – together worth 235 million pounds – were approved.

This year’s Bus Challenge competitions included the introduction on a pilot basis of Kickstart funding, an element that supports new services which local authorities and bus operators have identified as having potential for passenger growth and to become viable after initial pump-priming.