New Ideas for the Long Mynd and Stiperstones Shuttle Bus
2022 has been a particularly challenging year for the shuttle bus service. Unfortunately, passenger numbers have been much lower than previous years, despite the hugely valued rally of support from local people.
We're aware that many travelled on additional days, to show their support, which was hugely appreciated by the team here at the AONB office. But despite that, it’s a bit of a double whammy. In the same year the cost went up, passenger numbers overall have gone down. Even the number of passengers travelling with concessionary fares were less than in previous years.
There are many possible reasons for this. It may have simply been the heat, it was a very hot summer. Now that travel restrictions have been eased for most countries, it’s possible more people took the opportunity to holiday abroad. There are also the changes we made to the route last year to consider. The bus now turns around at the Stiperstones Inn rather than looping through Minsterley, Pontesbury and Pulverbatch. This change didn’t seem to have a negative impact last year, but it can take more than a couple of years to get a feel for how well changes have gone.
The economic downturn and cost of living increases may also have had an impact. Increased fuel and other costs forced us to increase the costs of the tickets. It’s possible that this was a step too far.
There are so many things that may have contributed, it’s difficult to really understand which are the most significant.
And that’s why we want to talk to local users. We know that there are many people in the Church Stretton and wider community that regularly use the shuttle bus. There may also be people who would use it, but there’s something about how it works that doesn’t work for them. That’s why we are looking for your help to make sure what we are providing and how we are providing it, is as good as it can be.
But before I give you details of how you can get involved; I’d like to tell you about the history of the bus...
Keeping the wheels rolling
I started working in the Shropshire Hills in 1998 on a European Funded project promoting walking, cycling and exploring in our wonderful hills. During that time, I met Pete Carty, then the National Trust’s manager for the Long Mynd. Pete had the idea to set up a shuttle bus to help people get up onto the hill and reduce the number of cars parking on the top. At the time the Mynd was a popular place, but nothing like how busy it is today. Within a couple of years Tom Wall at the Stiperstones Nature Reserve also had a bus running, and it seemed a good idea to link the services, and then make them one.
These were heady times, people liked the bus, and there was plenty of grant funding available to keep them going. We even experimented with other bus links, including connecting Church Stretton to Much Wenlock through the autumn and Christmas holidays.
The goal throughout was to reduce the need for people to use their cars. The Long Mynd & Stiperstones bus has regularly carried 3,000 – 4,000 people during the season, which on average was about 40 days (weekends and bank holidays through the summer months). That’s in the region of 2-3,000 cars a year not being used to explore the area. A significant reduction in CO2. The value of all those people in local pubs and other businesses has also been significant. Many have travelled on Sundays for legendary lunches at the Bridges and Stiperstones Inns, not to mention teas and cakes at the Bog Centre. We’ve regular visitors to the area that book their holidays in Church Stretton area to use the bus.
This all took off whilst I wandered away for a short time to pursue other ambitions. During this time, the management of the service was taken on by Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership, which I returned to in 2014. It was in great shape, but as the subsidies decreased it became more necessary to focus on the bottom line. How could we continue to ensure the bus washed its face?
Re-imagining the service
Well, we have tweaked, and evaluated and tweaked some more. We’ve reduced costs and the long circuit to focus on where the people are. We’ve used the best deals, and benefited from local expertise, like the dynamic Mick Boulton, innovative Alixe Gough and tireless Bob Welch, all champions in the community and for our bus. Your bus. We should also recognise the continued and invaluable support of the doughty Pete Carty, not to mention Chris Purcell in the Council Transport department. Despite all that, the service is becoming more and more costly to run.
We’ve started to address this by talking to the Town Council, National Trust, Natural England and Shropshire Council, who have always contributed towards the costs of the service. In our recent meeting we explored ideas for a community-based scheme, perhaps working with new partners like the Mayfair Centre.
As ever, we are also looking for new funding opportunities. Re-imagining the service potentially opens this up, especially if we look at improving the service’s accessibility. We’ve also been looking at community bus schemes in other parts of the country. Now we need to hear your views.
If you’d like to tell us what the bus means to you, please come to our New Ideas for the Shropshire Hills Shuttle Bus Workshop on Friday 13th January in the Silvester Horne Institute from 2.15 – 4pm. Come for a cuppa before sitting down for a short presentation about the bus at 2.30pm.
This will be followed by facilitated group discussions where we can hear your views on a range of topics including, how you use the service, accessibility, ticketing and frequency. You can book your place through our Facebook page, contact us at the office on 01743 254740 or email shropshirehillsAONB@shropshire.gov.uk
I hope to see you there.
Nigel McDonald, Sustainable Tourism Officer, Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership
Published by Shropshire Hills National Landscape on