Divergent results of ease
One of the key indicators in the Easy Travel Index (ETI) is the score for ease of local travel. In this area Wrexham and Port Talbot are the best performing Welsh regions, coming 7th and 10th respectively. However, not all areas score so well. Carmarthenshire ranks joint last (45th) with Cambridge, and Bridgend is only a few positions higher. Carmarthenshire also falls last for ease of long distance travel and no Welsh regions make it into the top 10 for this measure.
A rural challenge
When digging deeper into the Easy Travel Index results, it becomes clear that rurality is an important factor for performance. Carmarthenshire and Powys are two of least densely populated areas in Wales and also record lower GDP per capita figures that other areas of Wales. In these two areas, reported bus travel is the lowest of all areas included in the ETI; only around one quarter of survey respondents stated that they used the bus in the last month compared to an average of 45% across the UK.
Lower bus use seems to be due, in part, to limited timetables and restricted service coverage; in Carmarthenshire and Powys a significantly higher proportion of people agreed that these two factors caused them difficulties for local travel compared to the average across the UK. It is likely that the particularly low proportion of people holding a national concessionary travel pass in Powys (9%) is related to this. If older people do not see the bus as a viable option for them, they are less likely to make the effort to apply for their concessionary entitlements and use the car if this is an option. In many rural areas in the UK older people continue to drive even when confidence behind the wheel may be reducing, as this is the only viable option. (See our related R&D Project Onwards which is looking at driving and dementia.)
Furthermore, it is not surprising that in Carmarthenshire 26% of people noted that there are not enough different modes of transport options available to them. This was the highest proportion of people agreeing to this statement by some way, where the UK average was only 11%.
What causes worry?
Despite people in the more rural areas of Wales appearing to face the greatest restrictions on travel, it is actually in Cardiff where the highest proportion of people say that they do not leave home due to concerns about travel (9%). Private car use in the rural areas is higher than in Cardiff and this seems to be offsetting the low public transport use.
Beyond the rural challenges, there are other human factors which cause worries for people when travelling. There is poor performance for Welsh regions in particular areas: Powys has the highest proportion who worry about missing a connection (41%); Newport has the highest proportion who worry about lack of toilets (39%); and Port Talbot has the highest proportion who worry about having a crash when driving (27%).
Through Viaqqio we aim to design mobility which works for people, reducing their worries and concerns to create excellent user experiences. We firmly believe that this is only possible by co-design where we work with people to design the detail of the service. New mobility services must directly address people’s worries, concerns and challenges as well as their hopes. In the process of co-design, we often find that some small improvements and innovative thinking around existing transport assets and infrastructure can make a big difference to people. Importantly, this also unlocks new mobility offers and strong commercial opportunities.
In Wales, there is already a real focus on people’s needs. The work of the Welsh Commissioners opens up people-centred thinking which can transform the way services are delivered. We note, in particular, the work of the Older People’s Commissioner and Children’s Commissioner; real positives for Wales which must be harnessed in future transport policy design.