Once upon a time there was a triumphant age of public transport. It was a time when buses used to go everywhere, at all kinds of time, in all kinds of weather, and all days of the week. Buses were quaint vehicles compared to buses in the modern age, with a driver in a cab at the front and a conductor or conductress issuing tickets inside to the passengers. The buses were owned and run by the public authorities using public money – it was seen as an important and essential public service.
Whenever there is something good around there are always some vandals who want to destroy or tear it down, so this is what happened to our bus service. The only thing is that this time it wasn’t teenage thugs late at night after the pubs closed; it was our own mature educated elected MP representatives in parliament Leader of this pack of wolves was the so called iron lady herself PM Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) – a strong determined steely harsh feelingless politician, often head strongly charging-off in the wrong direction, leading her troops from the front (strange then that she cried her eyes out when in the end her party dumped her!). She and her Tory colleagues didn’t need buses to get around and she certainly didn’t see why she should allow public money to go off in that direction. This presented an impassable opportunity for some people to make a fast buck or two, so we were given at a stroke deregulation of the buses – no mucking about with pilot systems for her.
It is a well known fact that when money grabbing unscrupulous individuals are allowed to get involved in cash generating machines and control them, there are no prisoners taken. The reason that society is run under central government regulation is that business people cannot be trusted to act with conscience and with responsibility – not when money and power is involved. Our MPs didn’t care so they just abandoned the public to its fate and voted in the 1986 Transport Act to hand bus service provision over to anyone who fancied chancing their arm; the Act abandoned all significant influence over what was done and ensured there was no say or control over fares or services – only London and NI were spared this fate. It was recognised by MPs that bus owners wouldn’t bother with non profitable routes or services, so provision was made for local authorities to carry on paying out for bus public transport, except now as a financial subsidy to bus operators (but with no controls).
The big naive claim was that there would be competition resulting in lower fares and better services with consequential growing bus usage coupled by large benefits to the public purse. What a sick joke – they even get a subsidy on fuel duty.
The new bus owners inevitably cherry picked the profitable bus activity, drove out the weakest rivals and created their own monopolies – so no competition there then (certainly in the early days there was concentrated competition in areas between competing bus companies, but this was often accompanied by illegal intimidation and attempts to destroy opposing businesses – anyone who uses buses will have watched 2 buses from different operators turning up at the same time!).
So where are we now? Well operators do exactly what they want without regard to us users, so we have a disgusting bus service in most areas of the country, including large cities and towns, with higher fares and a rotten unreliable or increasingly non-existent service. Buses that are timetable scheduled are frequently a ‘no show’ or late: god help you if you want to travel anywhere difficult (meaning unprofitable like a rural area, or off-peak, or at weekends, or cross country). People can no longer rely on buses so are driven onto the roads with all that means (deaths, accidents, injuries, delays, lost time, traffic congestion, pollution, cost, parking nightmares, etc). Older and sick and poor people are particularly disenfranchised and village folks isolated. Trying to travel anywhere by bus in the winter may well get you ill while you wait in vain at the bus stop.
While all this is happening and operators are trousering a fortune, local authorities still have to use our taxes to pay out large sums in subsidies to try and get any semblance of a service for their locals. This is hardly the commendable and cost effective result that was promoted by the establishment at the outset is it?
Those living in London escaped the hell of deregulation and they get good cheap reliable bus services – lucky blighters. So for the rest of us is there any chance of a reprieve? Any chance of getting a proper bus service back? Oh No definitely Not – those MPs, all of them Tory, Labour, LibDem, or whatever, don’t need buses so we the general public can get lost; they have got better things to do like their expenses or finding something else big they can screw-up good and proper!
Buy a bike!
[This is one of a number of Posts that comment on the effect of significant changes brought about by Political Parties
Still available for you to read: Creation of a Welfare State ]