People living in small towns and villages don’t need telling that life is harder without a car. Disconnected, underfunded and unreliable, public transport doesn’t serve rural areas well in my experience.
My home county of Pembrokeshire typifies this picture, although there are efforts to address this. Welsh researchers found this year that some areas don’t even get one bus an hour! Bus stops (reduced by 3%), routes (15% less) and opportunities catch a bus (down 22%) all contracted during the pandemic across Wales.
And thanks to global events putting a rocket under fuel prices, life is harder for drivers too. As ever, these changes hit deprived communities and people who can’t work from home hardest.
It’s a grim picture. It may explain why talk about ‘connecting places’ often hits a wall of scepticism.
Local action on fuel prices
A handful of Pembrokeshire people including my dad stepped into this space in 2022, to help those who can’t leave their cars at home save money.
He created a Facebook community of interest called Pembrokeshire Petrol Price Watch to capture and share information about local fuel prices.
The group started with a simple mission to share information about where to find the cheapest fuel. People posted pictures of prices from forecourts every day. Interest rocketed as cost pressures increased during the year.
With almost 6,500 members at the time of writing, visitors post around 100 times a week and leave more than 1,000 weekly comments underneath these posts.
Fellow group admin John Durham’s weekly ‘top 10’ list collates the cheapest prices posted by users. It’s so popular that the Western Telegraph shared the list, crediting the group.
To support thousands of Pembrokeshire households without connections to the mains gas grid, Amy Hughes posts weekly domestic heating oil updates.
And local Assembly Member Paul Davies liaised on the group’s behalf with Tesco’s external affairs team about their prices in Haverfordwest. The sizeable out-of-town store is a notable absentee from the top 10 list, which is a regular group talking point. I’ve written before about their track record of misrepresenting ‘value’. It’s interesting that many local outlets, including their own in places like Milford and Carmarthen, are more keenly priced.
For someone who barely uses a mobile, running the group has become quite a commitment for dad as interest grows. So others, including me, help with updates and moderation.
Although there are some spats, as with any Facebook group, the tone is overwhelmingly collaborative and positive.
People seem to appreciate the updates. It’s helping people save money, often when there is no credible alternative to driving. Some say it’s made a difference to their lives. It’s been great to see.
With cost-of-living pressures showing little sign of easing and public transport infrastructure years away from happening, the group has a role in 2023.
It’s a great example of a simple idea, focused on a ‘front of mind’ topic. Now the community leads the conversation.
Any business that cares about what its customers are saying may want to tune in.