‘WHY WE NEED TO TAKE BACK CONTROL OF OUR BUSES’17 November 2019
In 1985 the Conservative government passed a bus deregulation act – transferring public transport into private hands. In the Tories’ eyes, car ownership was a key plank of 1980s aspiration – whether a real quote or not, their attitude to transport is summarised by Thatcher’s quip that a man beyond the age of 26 on a bus “can count himself as a failure”.
The car lobby and decades of transport planning that prioritised private vehicles above all else did the rest of the work, and the result today is clear to see – ridership is at historic lows, with passenger numbers outside of London having dropped by half since the 1980s.
Why does this matter? First off, getting more people out of their cars and onto public transport is key to tackling climate change. Across Europe, cars make up about over 60 per of the total carbon emissions from road transport.
Secondly, doing this is also crucial to cleaning up our toxic air which is responsible for hundreds of deaths each year in Bristol.
And finally, better transport can improve our quality of life too – because buses carry far more people for the space they occupy on the street, fewer cars and more buses on the roads mean faster journey times for everyone. As the saying goes, when you sit in a traffic jam, you’re not stuck in traffic – you are the traffic.
The privatisation and deregulation of buses, alongside the takeover of our cities by private cars, has left us with public transport that’s too often expensive, slow and unreliable.
As someone who has no car and relies on a combination of buses and my bike, I’ve noticed prices often increase with little improvement in service or journey times. Bus travel has become 65 per cent more expensive over the past decade.
The supposed benefits of privatisation have failed to materialise. Bus companies have little incentive to improve the service as they often operate quasi-monopolies with no competition for passengers.
As a councillor, I hear complaints all the time – bus companies dropping services which are unprofitable, or reducing buses on key routes. So what can be done?
Firstly, we need public control over our buses – as a service they should be accountable to the public, not to shareholders.
The Green Party are firmly in favour of restoring local government control over buses to improve provision and give them preferential road space. Greens would make buses free for everyone, tackling isolation, inequality and the climate crisis at the same time.
At present local authorities are forced to subsidise private companies to keep buses going on unprofitable routes – with public ownership improving buses will be relatively simple.
However, in 2017 the Conservatives passed a law to prevent councils setting up publicly owned bus companies, so, until we can change the law, what can we do?