Bus services are being cut to the bone in England and Wales, leaving those without access to alternative transport at risk of complete social isolation.
Thousands are stranded in their homes—potentially unable to go to the shops, visit friends and family or access healthcare.
Richard from Lancashire said that bus cuts are hampering his ability to get around. “I’m a guide dog owner so I can get out and about by bus, but the cuts are making me less independent,” he said.
Bus services are not a niche question—there are over 4.3 billion bus journeys every year, which accounts for 60 percent of public transport business.
Having a properly organised transport system is also a question of public health. Air pollution across Britain is responsible for about 40,000 premature deaths each year, according to the Royal College of Physicians.
By decreasing public transport, more are forced onto the roads in their own cars, or in taxis.
This increases emissions, and also increases congestion on the roads.
A report from the Campaign for Better Transport released earlier this month reveals a crisis in public transport.
It shows that 46 percent of bus services in England and 39 percent in Wales have been removed since 2010.
That’s 3,347 bus services withdrawn or reduced—including 300 this year alone.
It’s partly a question of funding—councils used to operate their own bus services, or subsidise bus companies to run some routes.
Now there are only 11 council-owned bus companies that provide full coverage of their area.
Local authorities in England and Wales have slashed funding for bus services by a staggering £196 million since 2010.
Many are struggling to pay for services—grants from the Tory government are 49 percent less in real terms than eight years ago.
Some councils have stopped funding bus services altogether. Oxfordshire council spent around £5.7 million in 2010-2011, but this year they spent nothing.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has blasted the Tories’ record on bus services.
“A bus pass isn’t much use if there isn’t a bus. Does the prime minister think it’s fair that bus fares have risen 13 percent more than inflation since 2010?” he asked.
Corbyn proposed more powers for some local authorities to commission transport—but more powers is no use if there is no more funding to resource it.
Cuts to bus services, like most other aspects of Tory austerity, drastically impact on poorer communities.
The crisis in buses is not just a result of the last decade of cuts.
It’s been caused by 30 years of deregulation, privatisation and neglect.
Poor, young and older people left isolated by the cuts
Bus service cuts leave people unable to go to work, get an education or take a trip to their GP. It shapes people’s lives—particularly those who live in rural areas.
Andrew from Gillingham in Dorset explains that withdrawal of services mean he only gets to nearby Frome to do shopping once a week.
“Services generally in Dorset often finish at five o’clock, run so irregularly they are useless and instead of encouraging people onto public transport, they ensure poorer and older people have to have a car to just get to a doctor or post office or to do basic shopping,” he said.
It’s also a question of accessibility. On average disabled people take ten times as many trips by bus as they do by rail.
Cutting bus services can make it harder for people to get out.
Social isolation is already a very real problem. One Red Cross study found that more than 9 million people in Britain are “often or always lonely”. And with many train companies attempting to cut the role of guards on trains, rail travel is becoming inaccessible on large parts of the network.
Kent council had to backtrack on binning
78 bus routes after a public outcry. Kent resident Liz said that “rural bus services are essential for my children to develop their independence.
“By cutting the rural bus services you are cutting the poor, young and elderly from rural communities off from the outside world.”
Tory laws that sell off services
The Bus Services Act 2017 is part of a push by the Tories to decentralise transport.
It promises to “unlock the potential for the bus industry”. In reality it just legislates for privatisation.
The Act promotes “partnership” between local authorities and private companies, and says one of the benefits will be better buses, improved routes and maximum fares.
But if the operator has an objection to these it can refuse the changes.
Franchising is a key element of the new legislation. It would mean more cities would be run like London—where private companies are outsourced to run different routes, but all operate under a single brand.
But if councils decide to franchise, they are then barred from running their own local authority services.
The Act says that “Bus services should continue to be provided by commercial operators, not local authorities. Local authorities cannot set up new municipal bus companies to compete for franchised services with existing operators or any new private sector providers.”
But private companies don’t provide services on the basis of what is needed, but what is beneficial for their profits.
Relying on a transport system organised for profit, rather than because it is socially useful lies at the heart of the issue.