The Labour Party have recently launched their big plans for energising the UK Bus industry. For someone like me it is both refreshing and troubling at the same time. On the positive side at a recent Prime Ministers question time at the house of commons he promised to spend a whopping 1.3 billion a year on replacing cuts to bus services that have been undertaken under the Conservative government. This would serve to boost communities, and helping the environment.
The policy was announced formally at an event hosted by our dear chums at Nottingham City Transport where a new fleet of gas buses, NCT are owned by the local Authority, which is labour controlled. It is estimated that more than 3,000 bus routes have been lost , as savage local authority funding has been decimated over the years since the austerity years of 2008 onwards. The money would be funded from revenues raised by vehicle excise duties.
Mr. Corbyn said that it was his plan to seek to replace the estimated 645 million annual real term cuts to bus funding mostly since 2010, onwards. Citing government figures he stated that bus coverage in Britain was at a 30 year low, while outside of London the number was number of passenger journeys had fallen by more than 10% since 2010. Mr Corbyn stated that the investment would galvanise local communities, as well as bolstering economies and helping the old and disabled. He also pledged to put local bus services back into regulated public ownership, as well as offering free bus travel to under 25’s.
Mr. Corbyn said “Bus services have been devastated by nine years of austerity. Thousands of routes have been axed, fares have soared, and passenger numbers are in free fall. Local bus services are a lifeline for many, particularly the elderly and those in rural areas. Cuts have had disasterous consequences for our towns and city centres and for air pollution and the environment”.
“Bus networks are essential for towns and cities and for tackling rural poverty and isolation, which is why Labour is committed to creating thriving bus networks under public ownership.” Not surprisingly the Conservatives were highly critical claiming that it will dis benefit hard working car families who rely on their vehicles.
My own view is that without doubt the replacement of funding is essential as without it, the bus industry will continue to lose passengers and the spiral of decline will continue. However putting the bus Companies back into public ownership in todays climate without people with the required skills is a dangerous gamble. Back in the day Local Authorities had people who had been brought up in the industry, they knew their craft and complimented the expertise within the bus Companies. The other issue is the concern that taking the bus Companies back into public ownership will negate innovation and an entrepreneurial flair, typified by Nottingham City Transport. The winners of the best UK Bus Company award at last years UK Bus awards.
Time will of course tell, and like it or not, the truth is that something do need to change sooner rather than later. The Nottingham model is a good one but a unique one as it has enjoyed a positive and ongoing relationship with a supportive local authority that includes miles of bus lanes, and high car park charges and excellent park and ride facilities . If only every City and Town enjoyed this relationship and vision the bus world would be a happier place. But, sadly they are not, indeed some pursue anti bus policies, in favour of the private car lobby.
My hope is that Mr Corbyn may realise that mass regulation will not work, each location requires its own analysis, to ascertain what is best for them. And a local plan can be implemented, however, in my experience in the past Local Authorities never took bus service support seriously. However, crucially at the moment air pollution and air quality targets have now put the bus right back in the front, middle and centre as the solution rather than the problem. I remain cautiously optimistic.