UK: Buses may not be sexy, but they are a lifeline for our poorest citizens

Published on Left Foot Forward, by MARTIN ABRAMS, Sept 26, 2013.

… On Tuesday the Office of National Statistics published statistics showing this is precisely what happened to bus services last year.

So far, there has been scarcely a murmur about it. The ONS figures show that in the 12 months to March 2013, passenger numbers saw an annual fall of 1.4 per cent – 2.5 per cent outside London. Bus fares went up by an average of 4.7 per cent. Outside urban areas, the increase was 5.7 per cent. Total bus miles are now 4 per cent lower than the 2008/09. The 20 per cent of total routes which are financially supported by local authorities are down 8 per cent for the second year running.  

These disastrous  numbers show buses facing a perfect storm of year on year cuts in support, higher fares and lower passenger numbers. What can be done to arrest the decline?

First, funding needs to reformed and increased. This can be justified purely on grounds of tackling social exclusion. There is an inverse correlation between bus use and income – the worse off you are, the more you rely on buses. Cutting funding and allowing services to disappear is regressive, hitting those with no alternative the hardest.

In so doing, it reduces the chances for people to get themselves out of poverty through training, education and access to jobs markets, while denying many important social links.

The government’s decision to protect the Bus Service Operators Grant First from further cuts as part of the last Spending Round has shown it understands this argument. In the medium term, funding reform could help to ensure minimum standards of accessibility, improvements in standards and reductions in fares for passengers, whilst retaining vital services that are a lifeline to many.

This could in part be achieved by protecting the concessionary pass for older people and introducing a concessionary pass for younger people in education, on apprenticeships or those out of work. Local authority support, however, still faces intense pressure and there has been a rash of stories in the local media highlighting further cuts to services are in the pipeline.

Buses also need investment in infrastructure. Bus-friendly town planning, investments in real-time information and smart ticketing are all proven to make bus services more attractive. One of the bright spots in this year’s statistics is Oxford where passenger numbers have increased 10 per cent in the last two years. This coincides with the introduction of smart ticketing in the city, designed to make services easier to use … //

… (full text).

(Martin Abrams is a public transport campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport).

Links:

After Glasgow: What did the left get out of the Lib Dem conference? on Left Foot Forward, by Gereth Epps, Sept 20, 2013;

Liverpool City Council considers scrapping bus lanes, on BBCnews, Sept 19, 2013;

(see also: Welcome to our new blog: politics for the 99%).

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