What does the bus price cap mean for people in Dorset – and just how far can you actually go? Rachael Rowe reports
When 18 people recently got on the bus in Okeford Fitzpaine, the driver realised something was up. Usually, the Y4 bus runs half empty, but on a cold spring day it was remarkably full of chatter. It was clear that the driver had never actually experienced a full bus with standing room only! Green transport stalwart and local resident Dilys Gartside had organised a trip to see The Mousetrap when it came to Yeovil on its recent national tour. Not only had she acquired the group’s theatre tickets and found somewhere good for lunch – just as importantly she had alerted those of us too young to have a bus pass that the fare cap meant the journey currently costs just £2 each way.
Instead of concentrating on the road and grumbling about the price of fuel and stress of parking, I could chat to my village neighbours and watch the world go by.
What is the bus cap?
The £2 bus cap was introduced by the Department of Transport on 1st January 2023 and was initially planned to run for eight weeks. Participating bus companies offer a single fare, capped at £2. The scheme’s success has just seen it extended a second time, and it is now running until 31st October – perfect for a summer of day trips. The Department of Transport review in May found that urban residents used the scheme more than those in rural areas. Of course, this could well be due to the much-reduced service in the countryside, particularly at weekends. It also found journeys made by bus increased as a result of the cap, which helps keep the struggling bus services operational.
Is it a green choice?
With the bus cap in place, a journey on public transport can work out significantly cheaper than driving a car, and for those of us watching every penny, this can really make a difference. However, there’s a significant benefit to the environment as well. Research by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) shows that buses are one of the least polluting forms of transport, providing they have passengers. A single-person car journey emits four times more carbon dioxide than a bus taking the same journey. And of course, per capita carbon emissions decrease the more passengers there are travelling on the bus.
BEIS also shows that in 2019-20 – the latest available data – carbon emissions decreased by an average of 18 per cent in each local authority. In Dorset, emissions decreased by 20 to 25 per cent. Although lockdowns will clearly have impacted transport data, previously emissions had fallen by just two per cent annually.
However, with global warming increasing, more needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions. Transport is a significant contributor, producing 24 per cent of the UK’s total emissions, even in lockdown-affected 2020. To that end, schemes like the bus fare cap are essential to encourage more use of public transport. In Germany, for example, it is now possible to buy a travel pass allowing unlimited train and bus travel across the entire country for one month for €49. You can’t get one return train ticket from Gillingham to London for that!
Where can £2 take you?
Editor Laura’s son recently discovered a new independence with a £2 price tag. Struggling to get a driving test, he’s been reliant on Dadcabs, with ticket prices discouraging him in the past from opting for a bus.
‘I went to Yeovil for the day to see a friend, couldn’t get a lift so had to resort to the bus – and discovered the £2 charge. Admittedly I did miss my bus home, and ended up getting the wrong one towards Wincanton so Dad could collect me half way in Henstridge. But then I had a hospital appointment in Blandford, so I took myself and went to my fave barber while I was there. Once I realised about the £2 cap, the door was opened and now I’m making regular plans. Working to a rural bus schedule isn’t brilliantly convenient, but you can definitely make it work with a bit of a plan.’
If you live in the Blackmore Vale, you can get to several interesting places for £2 each way (and for free if you have a bus pass!).
A day at the beach
(Blandford Forum to Bournemouth)
Imagine – no car parking nightmares or negotiating the roundabout at Canford Bottom. Take the X8 from Blandford to Poole. From Poole Bus Station take the M2 to Bournemouth town square. From there, it’s a short walk to the beach. Alternatively, the Breezer buses are included in the £2 cap so you can travel the scenic route from Poole to Swanage or Weymouth – even Lyme Regis.
Pub Crawl to Sherborne
We’re not recommending you get drunk and disorderly on a bus, obviously. But a bonus of public transport is the ability to enjoy a pint or two without worrying about drinking and driving. On the Y4 route from Blandford to Yeovil, you’ll find several good pubs that are perfect for lunch out or a quiet drink. Try the Saxon Inn in Child Okeford, the Crown Inn at Marnhull, or the Tippling Philosopher in Milborne Port. And to work off all those calories, include a short circular walk around these beautiful villages as part of your day out
New Forest Circular
With connecting buses from Salisbury (X3) and Poole (X6) you can spend a day travelling around the New Forest on one of three tour buses which will take you past spectacular views on a circular route – and of course you can stop off where you like and simply get the next bus. Stops include Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst, Exbury Gardens and more.
Contrary to popular perception, there’s a lot of choice when it comes to choosing a bus route in Dorset – and it’s good to remember they’re an option not just for a necessary shop or trip to the dentist but for Grand Days Out too.
To help with the planning, a simple Google search for ‘bus XX (starting town) to XX (destination)’ provides journey times and bus stop details.
We all want to protect our rural transport, and it is essential we use it or we risk losing it.