Local bus services are essential to many, bus drivers and other transport workers have been given the title “key workers” since the start of the Covid 19 pandemic. Buses are the most-used form of public transport, carrying millions of people to school and work, shops, doctors’ surgeries and social activities. While they might have been running almost empty for the last 12 months as we emerge from the pandemic we must not forget their importance to society.
Bus provision was deregulated in 1986, putting the fate of transport services into the hands of private operators. Putting profit before the social importance of bus routes has inevitably led to routes being scrapped unless local authorities subsidise routes to make them commercially viable for the private bus companies. Bus services have been hit by severe cuts in the last decade, local authority funding to bus services in the South West has been halved in the last 10 years. In 2018 across England and Wales over 300 vital bus routes were reduced or withdrawn completely, due to lack of funding.
Probably the worst public transport infrastructure in Europe
The consequences of this decade-long reduction in public transport have led to the UK having probably the worst public transport infrastructure in Europe. Reductions or removal of services has a major impact on people’s lives, especially in rural areas where they can offer a lifeline. High streets, already under pressure from online shopping, home delivery and centralisation of some services, can suffer lower footfall when public transport is reduced. Continually rising fares with no improvement in services hits the poorest communities hardest. There is also the environmental impact of increasing car dependency for communities with no access to decent public transport.
There are towns and cities in the UK in which buses operate on a municipal system. Local authority-run bus companies have a great track record – they have won bus operator of the year at the Bus Awards in four of the last five years. Municipally owned bus services in Reading make money which is invested back into the network, instead of being paid out to shareholders. Greater Manchester has also recently announced they are taking back control of buses, to make them better, cheaper and more integrated as well as making ticketing simpler, this is this based on the Transport for London model.
Buses for people
This type of municipal run bus service could easily work on a larger scale across Devon. Cheap and reliable bus services connecting communities and integrated with other transport options would surely mean some would ditch their cars. One double decker bus can take up to 75 cars off the road, ease congestion and reduce emissions at the same time. Profit from busy commuter services can then be used to invest in the whole network and ensuring socially important routes are maintained. Buses are run better when in the hands of the public, run for people before profit.
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