Joyce Watson AM’s ‘Politically Speaking’ column for the Powys County Times
You wait ages for a free weekend bus, then eight come along at once, as people doesn’t quite say. As part of ‘Catch the Bus Week’ (3 – 9 July), tomorrow marks the start of the Welsh Government’s Free Weekend travel initiative. Launched in Brecon by transport minister Ken Skates on Monday, the scheme includes all TrawsCymru services:
• TrawsCymru T1 (Aberystwyth – Lampeter – Carmarthen) service;
• TrawsCymru T1C (Aberystwyth – Lampeter – Carmarthen – Swansea –Cardiff) service;
• TrawsCymru T2 (Aberystwyth – Dolgellau – Bangor) service;
• TrawsCymru T3 (Wrexham – Llangollen – Dolgellau – Barmouth) service;
• TrawsCymru T4 (Cardiff – Merthyr Tydfil, Brecon – Newtown);
• TarwsCymru T5 (Aberystwyth – Cardigan – Haverfordwest);
• TrawsCymru T6 (Brecon – Ystradgynlais – Swansea); and
• Cardiff Airport Express T9 service.
Concessionary transport has been a cornerstone of Welsh Government policy for years, from discounted rates for 16 – 18 year olds, to bus passes for older people and people with disabilities, and their carers, to free rail travel for pass holders on selected lines – year round on the Borderlands and Conwy Valley Lines and between October and March on the Heart of Wales and Cambrian Coast Lines. The rationale is straightforward: a modern, integrated, accessible, reliable and affordable transport system is good for the economy and good for communities. That is why this year the Welsh Labour Government will invest an extra £84 million to improve local transport in rural communities. And it is why we are aiming to deliver a new, not-for-profit rail model, similar to the one run by Transport for London, when the new Wales and Borders franchise is awarded next year.
Like our free swimming scheme, concessionary travel extends to injured service personnel. It’s the least we can do. On 24 June people across Wales and Britain came together to celebrate Armed Forces Day, to honour the men and women that serve and have served our country. The recent incident in Pembrokeshire, at Castlemartin, is a sad reminder of the risks they take and the sacrifices they make on behalf of us all.
The previous weekend, people had come together to celebrate…togetherness. The Great Get Together honours the late Jo Cox. It aims to celebrate the all too easily forgotten truth that we have far more in common than we have differences. Brecon’s St John’s Centre was one of the host venues. After the tragedies of recent weeks and months, the Great Get Together was a timely fillip, a simple celebration of community and having fun.
One group that typifies Jo’s optimism and generosity of spirit is Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary, who support people seeking sanctuary in Britain. During a recent Senedd debate on refugees and asylum seekers, I praised the group’s work. I have since learnt that Cradoc School has become the first primary school in Wales to receive a School of Sanctuary Award – a fantastic achievement. From free buses to good deeds, I remind myself that there’s more good news than bad, you just sometimes have to look for it.