In my long career as a Busman, which I realised this year will actually cover 36 official years, and indeed in total a worryingly old 59 years unofficially as I was born into the Industry, and grew up in it back in the good old days of 1960. Come to think of I have known nothing else, if the truth be told. In fact I am reminded of a comment that I came across many years ago, that some Busmen (and women) are born with diesel in their veins, rather than blood.
Funnily enough, such a comment probably needs updating given the modern demonisation of the diesel engine. Maybe it would be appropriate today to say that modern day Bus people are born with electricity crackling through their veins, with maybe a hybrid option available. Do not know about you but it does not quite work for me, but I am old school.
The Gaurdian published an article this week that reported that bus usage has never seen such a massive decline, over the last year. The combination of savage Local Authority funding for rural bus networks has decimated bus use outside of the main conurbations, this has been an ongoing issue since the implementation of austerity measures from 2009 onwards. The socio economic implications of this are starting to be realised, with the real impact being on a decline on the quality of life of the weak and vulnerable, who are hit hardest by the lack of mobility and increased risk of loneliness and essential mobility and isolation.
Parallel to all this has been a growing decline across the UK’s major towns and Cities in bus use, with both fewer actual passengers, bus journeys, and as a result total bus mileage. A seriously worrying trend by any benchmark. However, it is important to understand the reasons why this decline has occurred. The facts are that firstly in real terms car driving costs remain low, as a result increased congestion is a real issue, especially at peak times. As a result bus journey times have significantly increased across many peak corridors, naturally enough making the bus a far less attractive option. Secondly, there is an increasing recognition that Clean Air Zones are key to improving quality of life, and that is now being followed up with the wide spread implementation of Clean air zones, with buses being subjected to daily fines, if they fail to meet the required emission standards. Thirdly, the truth is that less people are travelling as footfall declines as traditional shopping habits are replaced by home shopping, and the ever daily increase in home deliveries. In addition the rise of uber style services along with walking and cycling have hit the bus industry.
So, package all that little lot together and you have a perfect storm to undermine the role and the attractiveness of the bus. But before we all queue up to leap of the edge of the cliff in a massive Mooney style wedding of lemming like portions, hold fast,for there is a hope of salvation. The truth is that actually the present circumstances have the potential to actually put the bus back at the epicentre of the solutions to congestion, clean air zones and mass transit solutions for todays modern commuter.
To be fair I am not going to put the case for the bus myself, because there is a man who can do that job far better than me. And not only that but as the MD of one of the biggest bus groups, he has actually reversed the trends and stimulated new passengers and profitable bus networks. He is a man who I hold in the highest regard both personally and professionally, a man who I have known for over 30 years and who I am proud to call my friend, he is Giles Fearnley, MD First UK Bus.