40th anniversary of Devon’s oldest community transport scheme

Exe Valley Market Bus

Posted on: 4 October 2017

The oldest community transport scheme in Devon is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week (Wednesday 4 October).

The Exe Valley Market Bus, which operates in the Oakford, Stoodleigh and Washfield area of Mid Devon, started operating on 4 October 1977.

It was the first community transport service established in Devon as part of the Government’s programme of Rural Transport Experiments (RUTEX) and nationally it was among four of the earliest community buses, along with schemes in Norfolk, Clwyd and East Sussex.

The Exe Valley Market Bus was intended to replace two bus services which had been withdrawn.

Operating on Tuesday and Fridays it was given funding support from the Government and Devon County Council for in initial 18 month trial. A small band of volunteer drivers and committee members helped carry more than 2,000 passengers in the first six months.

40 years on, additional routes have been added, the service operates an extra couple days a week, and the number of volunteers has grown – and it is the volunteers that remain key to the organisation. Secretary Ann Roberts received a Volunteer Transport Enabler Award at this year’s Devon County Council Community Transport Awards, and Chairman Colin Radford won Community Transport Volunteer of the Year in 2014.

Exe Valley Market Bus Chairman Colin Radford, who has volunteered with the scheme for more than 30 years, said: “I remember it starting but I wasn’t involved at the start, but no-one thought it would be here 40 years later. I hope with help from Government and County Council towards replacing buses we can go on as long as we can. It’s a lifeline for the community to get into town or to have a day out. I’ve had a lot out of life and I think it’s lovely to give something back. You have to be dedicated and you have to enjoy it.”

Neil Macdonald was one of the first volunteer drivers for the scheme when it launched. He said: “We were guinea pigs in a new rural transport experiment at the time and had to develop our thinking as we went along. But it must have worked because here it is largely unchanged after 40 years. It became a model for other groups, showing what can be done.

“It was always very rewarding to take part and often great fun, negotiating Devon’s tiny lanes and listening to all the passengers on the way home, chatting away at full volume. That was when you realised how important and valuable a service it was to them. But schemes like this can’t keep going without some financial help, especially in replacing and maintaining the vehicle, because the community they serve is too thinly scattered over a wide area of the countryside. Support from national and local government remains essential, as it was at the beginning.”

Councillor Roger Croad

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for community transport, said: “40 years is a marvellous achievement and everyone involved with the Exe Valley Market Bus should be extremely proud of having served their local community in that time. It highlights the importance of community transport which is as relevant today as it ever was in ensuring our rural communities are not left isolated.”

For more information go to http://www.exevalleymarketbus.btck.co.uk/

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