While bus workers’ lives are dominated by the stress of living on low pay and working long hours, private bus operators are reaping in record profits.
First Group is Britain’s largest bus and rail operator with annual revenues of around £5 billion.
It reported a 12 percent leap in profits for the first six months of this year, making £103 million, including £48 million alone from bus operations.
Earlier this month First reported that its British bus operations are booming – with revenues on those businesses up 7.5 percent in six months.
Meanwhile Arriva – the largest bus operator in London – saw profits for the first six months of this year leap by an incredible 40 percent to £66 million.
It has seen a 20 percent expansion of its bus division in the same period.
But competition is fierce in the dog eat dog world of the bus companies.
Metroline, another major London operator, is owned by Singapore-based Comfort Delgro, which boasts that it is the second largest land transport operator in the world.
As well as being the largest bus operator in Singapore, the company also runs buses in Ireland, Britain, Australia and China.
It is also the biggest single taxi operator in Britain and Singapore.
Comfort Delgro is keen to expand. Unhappy with being the world’s second biggest, it says it aims “to be the world’s number one land transport operator in terms of fleet size, profitability and growth within the next four to six years”.
Since the deregulation and privatisation of the bus industry, competition between the operators has created big profits for the shareholders but driven down pay and conditions.
Services have also suffered. Outside London there is chaos in many towns and cities, with less profitable routes serving out of town and rural areas being run down, and lucrative areas seeing several operators with different ticketing schemes competing on the same routes.
The strikes currently taking place on the London buses offer an opportunity to challenge the logic of a system where private companies rake in millions while workers and passengers pay the price.
Neither Labour nor Tory London mayors have been willing to challenge the tendering system.
Tory mayor Boris Johnson has announced fare increases on buses and the London Underground of 6 percent in the new year. These will hit the poorest the hardest.
But strikes by thousands of bus workers across different companies can start to put some demands, not just for better pay, but over the future of the bus industry.
At a time when the chaos of the market is clear for all to see, we should campaign for buses to be taken back into public hands and to be funded properly.