By Malcolm Tipper (Newton Abbot CLP – Political Education Officer)
A headline in my paper this month was ‘Johnson pledges £5bn overhaul of bus services to fend off HS2 revolt’.
Today buses seem to be the prerogative of the teenager going to College or the elderly equipped with a bus pass, or so it seems in the Teignmouth area. In the large cities London, Manchester or Birmingham buses are an essential part of commuting to work. Buses in London were never deregulated when services were privatised across the country. Margaret Thatcher’s Government deregulated bus services outside London in the mid-1980’s arguing that competition would lead to increased passenger numbers by reducing fares and improving services. The House of Commons Cross party select Committee found last year that “bus use has declined year after year, and successive governments have made no concerted or coordinated effort to reverse or even stem the decline. So much for privatisation.
If Transport for London is able to direct provision to make sure it meets the needs of the whole community, and private operators can’t just cherry pick the most profitable routes surely now deregulation should apply country wide. Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor for Greater Manchester has announced that he will be seeking de-regulation in order to provide a better service.
Before widespread car ownership my family like the majority were reliant, especially post-Beeching, on buses for business and pleasure trips, in those days it was Devon General, now StageCoach SW (does that mean they keep getting held up!) But now according to the Urban Transport Group over the last decade bus use fell 15% from 1.1 billion journeys in 2009/10 to 908 million in 2017/18 (the latest year we have figures for). In Devon for the year 2017/18 2million fewer journeys were made. This situation will only get worse as Local Government subsidise many routes and they are subject to severe financial cuts. Buses provide a vital service for the passengers who rely on them. They are disproportionately used by people on lower incomes, who may not be able to afford a private car. Whatever your income a cheap and reliable bus service would reduce the need to use private vehicles and consequently reduce air pollution.
Boris Johnson revealed recently that he has a hobby of painting London double-decker buses full of happy smiling people. How long before those happy faces will change to grumpy frowning people? I wonder when the last time an Old Etonian actually travelled by bus, ah yes the one which had on its side “we send the EU £350m a week – let’s fund our NHS instead” which apparently a lot of people still believe! Or was it the ones encouraging Immigrants to go home. Either way I shouldn’t think Boris or our own M.P. Anne Marie-Morris have experienced the delights of the No.2 through Kingsteignton.
Teenagers in Teignmouth would probably like a better late night bus service to Exeter so they can enjoy a night out without having to use expensive Taxis to return, the last bus returns at 2340 (which isn’t too bad actually) but under a Labour government the under 25’s would also have free bus travel.
Boris Johnson is hoping that the new £5bn investment will allow bus passengers to “turn up and go” and perhaps he is thinking of the system in use in Switzerland.
The Swiss public transport system is called taktfahrplan, literally the clock timetable. In the Zurich city region the local authority closely defines three levels of bus service.
A village of 300 people or more receives a level one service, a bus every hour.
Level two is every half-hour, and is guaranteed to routes where the flow of passengers from multiple settlements combine to boost demand, this would be like Newton Abbot, Teignmouth and Dawlish
Level three provides one or more buses every 15 minutes and is for large, densely populated areas.
Bus timetables are linked up to train timetables, so buses are scheduled to arrive at major stations a few minutes before specific trains depart, and leave a few minutes after.
At present this sort of system is impossible in Britain because of the privatised and fragmented nature of our public transport system. Labour wants to make public transport an essential service, as the Swiss consider it to be, and would municipalise bus services giving local authorities back total control, as well as taking back Railways into Public ownership. This would provide the kind of transport service that would shift millions out of their private cars and into sustainable, low carbon options.
We could take public transport seriously and have a service which served everyone, and which everyone could be proud of.
This is what a Labour Government would do.