The case for affordable, frequent, reliable public transport
By Julie Boston
Bristol City Council sold, or handed over, its bus fleet when the Tories encouraged deregulation of the bus industry in the eighties. A local management company which developed into the multinational First Group has since provided buses on profitable routes and at profitable times. Bristol tax payers have paid about £5m annually to subsidise for First’s unprofitable services such as evenings or weekends ever since. Nowadays bus fares are considered higher than those since before privatisation. This is a similar case in other cities too. This unsurprisingly makes car ownership seem as realistic options for most people.
In contrast to Bristol, Nottingham, which is of a similar size, has a decent ownership of buses. Nottingham City Council owns and operates 350 buses, has one of the highest bus passenger numbers in England (Campaign for Better Transport, 2010) and makes a profit. A local private bus operator also supplies some services.
There are two main difficulties in campaigning for public transport. One is that the priority of bus operators (which often also operate rail) is not to deliver the best services to members of the public but maximise profit to pay their shareholders. The other is that issue of private ownership is hardly mentioned, by Campaign for Better Transport, for example. In addition to this trade unions such as rail unions have always campaigned for public ownership but are consistently ignored by the media & policy makers.
A recent meeting of Bristol Older People’s Forum expressed anger at the reduction of bus services but a campaign has not emerged. Mobile pensioners are campaigning to keep the free or cheap long distance bus tickets. Instead of an array of cuts to transport services & privatisation, government action is needed to provide cheap, reliable and frequent bus and rail services. An efficient public transport will reduce congestion, road accidents and cut CO2 emissions.
This will only be achieved by consistent campaigning against the privatisation of publicly owned services. So, I will be joining the Week of Auctions to stop further dismantling of public services.