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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Waiting for the bus

Wendy Cope famously wrote: 

'Bloody men are like bloody buses — 
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.' 

Nowadays the analogy rarely works because if you see more than one bus at a time the chances are you are hallucinating.

I exaggerate of course, but the point is a serious one. In Wales, the Welsh Government, apparently in defiance of its own policy of getting people out of cars and onto public transport, have cut the subsidies for buses. This act also goes against their stated aim of tackling climate change, reducing poverty, getting people back into work, and reconnecting communities.

And if you get to a bus station, and see that a bus is available to your chosen destination, do not count on catching it, because odds are it will disappear from the electronic display boards minutes before departure due to the non-availability of a driver.

It seems trite to say this, but many migrants coming to the UK in the past worked as bus drivers or in other transport jobs. Nowadays, Tory government policy means that we are lucky if we can recruit health and care workers from abroad, never mind people to undertake other work.

It is no surprise therefore to read in today's Guardian that new research has found that bus services have been cut by more than 80% in the past 15 years in some parts of England and Wales in a “silent war” on users.

The paper says that outside London, bus services plummeted by more than 60% in 80 local authority areas:

The University of Leeds, in conjunction with the charity Friends of the Earth, examined timetables across England and Wales since 2008. It found urban and rural services had decreased by 48% and 52% respectively – with some localities faring worse than others.

The findings showed that in Hart, Fenland and Broxtowe there had been a decline of more than 80%. Other constituencies without consistent bus services were North East Hampshire, with an 82% drop in services, and Bridgwater in Somerset, with an 81% decrease. Staffordshire Moorland and Stoke-on-Trent North have experienced the same reduction in services at 78%.

Mike Childs, the head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, said: “There has been a silent war on bus users for over a decade. This is not only disproportionately affecting those living on low incomes, people of colour and disabled people, who are less likely to own a car, but people who have had to give up their cars as they have got older due to poor health.”

For the 22% of UK households without access to cars, buses are crucial. The smooth running of services also helps to lower car use, reducing carbon emissions in highly congested urban areas.

Of the 100 constituencies with the greatest decline in bus services, 82 have a Conservative MP. This contrasts with analysis of bus services in London, which have stayed at similar levels for the past 15 years.

The data found urban areas outside the UK capital had an average of 14 buses an hour, whereas in London the hourly average was 120.

Friends of the Earth has called on all political parties to ensure a manifesto pledge for what it calls a “public transport renaissance”. The charity has also demanded that the next government pledges a return of “normal” bus services in the next five years.

Childs said: “To reduce pollution and cut emissions, we need the government to invest in our crumbling public transport system to make it far easier for people to use their car less and switch to greener ways to travel, like buses, trains and cycling.”

The Welsh Government may have read this research, but I am not holding my breath on them doing anything about it.

I have just read the Guardian article and came to your blog as I searched for the original Leeds Uni/FoE paper. (I'm still looking.)

I am totting up the number of buses available to me only ten years ago (Cockett area) and reckon it was around eight. Today we have three or four, and so irregularly spaced there are, as per your quote, two or three at the same time.

I've also noticed that gridlock on the main road, which 15-20 years ago happened only at sunny Bank Holidays, occurs literally every day now.

People just love their cars.
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