Buses back – here and there

An interesting Guardian article from yesterday highlights the fact that more than a quarter of bus routes outside London have been axed since 2012.

The Thatcherite scheme to privatise buses in order to improve services through competition has manifestly failed. It has instead led to a decline in bus travel and the creation of large bus groups which enjoy local monopolies and high shareholder dividends.

As the Guardian points out

Fares in England for buses – like trains – have risen far above the growth in average pay for workers over the last decade, as well as outstripping the price rises in fuel, even after the recent surge at the pumps. According to the RAC Foundation, bus and coach fares rose 58% in the last decade, while petrol went up 19%.

Yet:

… ministers have made clear the [Covid pandemic, bus] funding will expire in October 2022, encouraging services to then be adapted to meet demand, which is about 80% of pre-pandemic levels.

So yesterday’s announcement of Cheaper and better buses from the Department of Transport should have heralded a new dawn – but it is instead a further example of money as central government power and thus sowing division among local authorities. It indicates that buses may be cheaper and better in a few areas but in most they will not.

The announcement that:

Improvements in the pilot area, Cornwall, will start next week, funded by £23.5 million from the government.

Begs the question why they need a pilot area to ‘test’ whether lower fares and all inclusive ticketing are a good idea? It’s been working well in London for years….

And then while Tory Cornwall gets looked after, Tory Devon gets nothing… and Norfolk gets a bung but Suffolk doesn’t.

This is not any sort of policy but simply piecemeal crumbs from the Treasury table.

It is no way to encourage bus travel throughout the nation and is completely without any endeavour to meet climate change targets.

Meanwhile ‘press friendly’ new government funding for hydrogen and electric buses is welcome – but not much use if nobody travels on them…

Comments

  1. Andrew -

    It is a salutary lesson on what happens when the unconstrained free market is allowed to rip without adequate regulation. The pattern has been repeated across the country, A large private company moves into a new area, cross-subsidising frequent and cheap services to undercut the local provider and eventually driving them out of business, and then once a near monopoly position is established, the incomer is free to reduce service levels and increase prices almost at will.

    Even services within London, where the market is much more regulated, have been cut considerably in the last couple of years. I wonder if we can think of a reason why ridership might have gone down in that period.

    It becomes a downward spiral. If you can’t just turn up and go within a reasonable period – say ten minutes – for a reasonably low fare, then people who can do so will make other arrangements, often involving cars. Ridership falls further, services are withdrawn, and service levels fall further. We need the spiral to work the other way: if we establish a regular, reliable and cheap public transportation service, people will come to expect it, use it, and rely upon it.

    1. Peter May -

      Much agree with all of that.

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