Bus Travel In Rural Areas

Eluned Morgan:

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I want to focus on the issue of bus travel in rural areas. One thing that angers me more than anything as I travel around mid and west Wales is seeing public buses, travelling around, costing thousands upon thousands to the public purse, and time and time again I see virtually no passengers on board. The issue of ensuring that older people, particularly, can travel around our rural areas, is extremely important, but, my concern is that we are providing solutions that are appropriate for our urban areas in rural Wales, where a system that would be more flexible and would respond to individual requirements would be more relevant.

It is odd: I agree with David Rowlands—on this issue alone, just so that we’re clear on that. But, I do think that we also have to look to the future and consider electric vehicles. I think there is a revolution about to strike, and this is an issue where we have to take it seriously. Of course we need buses to take students to college or school, for example, but this issue of having a flexible system where, for example, it won’t be too long until we see driverless electric vehicles—. In rural Wales, as in all other areas, these vehicles will need to read the roads. They can’t read the roads unless there is white paint on the side of every road. There are roads in some remote areas where that simply doesn’t exist. I think the Welsh Government will have to think seriously about how that can happen in rural Wales, so that we do move towards a system where we do use driverless electric vehicles in our rural areas. That’s what I’d like to hear from you today.

Ken Skates

Can I thank Eluned Morgan for her question? I think she raises a really, really exciting area of study at the moment, and it’s one of the areas of work that the automotive technology park in Ebbw Vale will be examining, because I think there are experts now—indeed, there’s Paul Davies, within Industry Wales, who’s identified the need to ensure that connected autonomous vehicles are not just produced for urban use, but that there is also rural use applied to their manufacturing as well. For that reason, I’m keen to make sure that Wales is at the forefront of developing a rural autonomous programme, because it could be something that we could sell, roll out, protect intellectual rights for, and roll out right across the UK and, indeed, much of the western world and more rural parts of less developed parts of the world. So, I do think, as we horizon-scan the potential of electric vehicles, we also bear in mind that connected vehicles and autonomous vehicles will lead, potentially, to fewer people owning their own vehicles, but hiring, renting autonomous self-driving vehicles. That in turn could lead to fewer cars being parked up on driveways and on roadsides and more cars actually being used more of the time on our roads. It presents huge opportunities, big challenges, but it’s something that my department, my officials are currently looking at, very much through the lens of not just how we can solve problems and take advantage of opportunities for urban areas, but how we can model bespoke solutions to more rural areas as well.