So the Department for Transport is to launch an Open Data service so we might actually know when the next bus is coming. We, in what used to be called the provinces, have been denied this possibility for years because, as we all know, bus competition works, and stiff competition leads to booming passenger numbers.
Or so Thatcherism told us. Declines in bus passengers has been an ongoing theme ever since – indeed Thatcher is supposed to have said that if you were still on a bus over the age of 25 then you were not a success. Even if she actually didn’t, bus travel was clearly something unimportant to her, yet still today it is the most common form of transport, after the car. And all too essential to those who are too young or too old to drive – or who just simply cannot.
It is interesting that, outside Transport for London, where of course the passenger subsidy is very substantial, the areas with the highest bus usage are Brighton & Hove, a prosperous borough (and now a City), where Go Ahead Group inherited a well integrated network with well managed predecessors such as Southdown and Brighton Corporation, Nottingham, where the council still has substantial shareholdoing in the bus operation and Reading where the council owns the bus operator in its entirety. The Conservatives have – of course – quite unnecessarily, since banned councils from operating bus companies.
The private operators comprise the majority of the declining operators and indeed First Group has put its entire bus operation up for sale. Yet a full half year later noone appears to be offering to buy.
So it might be interesting to know when – if ever – the next bus is coming, but I’d suggest it is much more important to have integrated services and even or especially, like Luxembourg, free provision.
Capitalist free markets do not work in public transport. And this is even more evident when we need to prevent climate heating. I’m not holding my breath, but it is fervently to be hoped that new Conservative DfT ministers are listening.