Are we anywhere near there yet?

James Bloodworth, the incisive author of  ‘Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain‘ has turned his attention to buses in  a blog.

He is, it turns out, a Somerset boy, so his piece concentrates particularly on buses in Somerset, such as they are.

Yet rural bus services ­– much like rural postal services – are a collective endeavour which inevitably require an occasional loss to maintain a comprehensive network. It would be better to call this an investment rather than view it pejoratively as a wasteful subsidy.

The savings made by cuts to bus services will no doubt please those for whom expenditure on public services is a frivolous indulgence. But they rarely see the true cost of such cuts, which are typically borne by those behind closed doors, who quietly lose their independence.

His piece demonstrates what a disaster ‘the market’ is, with bus services able to be withdrawn within a few weeks and people’s jobs – or sometimes those on prescriptive jobseekers allowance – dependant on the withdrawn journey.

For me locally there is a railway station due to be constructed – at least a year overdue –  but once it is opened it would have to go through all sorts of enquiries in order to be closed in the future. With buses a route withdrawal is about a month.

Unless I have to travel significant distances, I suppose I’m rather lucky. I detest parking, having been obliged to park in a Croydon multi-storey car park for some years as a condition of my employment, so I walk if I can, and if that is not possible, I try to get the bus. This is supposed to run every ten minutes (which probably indicates that I’m an urban being), but this private company (Stagecoach, since you ask) is useless at dealing with traffic congestion. Three in a row is not unknown, though I’m afraid I generally walk after a wait of more than 10 minutes. Fine for me, alone. Not so good for a mother and pushchair, or an OAP, or a disabled passenger, or indeed anyone who uses the bus to get to work.

This is a view of the economy fractured by the Thatcher outlook.

If there is no bus then you don’t get to work which ain’t great for the economy  – but allegedly the market will supply. Perhaps it might –  but  only 4 weeks later – by which time you will have no job to go to.

So here the ‘market’ actually provides potential unemployment.

Should we tell our wonderful Transport Minister, Chris Grayling?

Or would he be disbelieving as he was with the freight transport industry?


  1. Graham -

    Christian Wolmar has written a good little book “Are Trams Socialist?”. In a section of the final chapter, with the same title as the book, he compares the transport system in Switzerland, with Zurich as an example, and concludes that they have an integrated transport network, which runs like clockwork by comparison with the UK which has the exact opposite (a disintegrated network?)

    He suggests: “There are two key aspects of the Swiss system that underpin its success: it is based on cooperation rather than competition (the derogatory description would be ‘monopoly’) and it is a product of a highly decentralized political system where much decision making is made at the local level.”

    Our politicians would simply retort, as they often do, “it wouldn’t work here” with the unsaid “because we’re exceptional and don’t do things that way.” So we have no transport policy.

  2. Peter May -

    Agreed. Our disintegrated transport policy is far more wasteful of resources because that’s what transport competition does. I come increasingly to the view that free local transport is the future – it would encourage less car use/polution and so on and co-ordinated transport would help people to have confidence. I know I’m pretty suspect of public bus transport in an alien town because there’s little information and service changes are frequent. London buses are fine – indeed a considerable improvement on when I used to live there!

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