PRIOR to the deregulation of the buses in 1985-86 many important decisions concerning our bus services were decided by the Traffic Commissioners and local authorities, not by bus companies.

Timetables normally lasted a minimum of six months, staff were paid enhanced rates of pay for working weekends, rest days, nights and late shifts.

Thorough training in all aspects of the job were taken very seriously and was normal practice.

Post-1985, all the disciplined structure has been replaced by widespread chaos and unreliability.

Industrial strife amongst the privatised bus companies is now a regular occurrence as operators try to maintain Dickensian pay and conditions amongst their front-line staff.

Current disputes over pay and conditions are simmering at First Devon and Cornwall, and First Eastern Counties, where there has been an overwhelming vote for strike action.

At the same time as Stagecoach Chief Executive Brian Souter was paid almost a million pounds last year for his services?!

Deregulation was the Tories’ gift-horse to big business, and continues to be so under ‘New’ Labour.

It has been a license to print money at the expense of the people who rely on public transport and pay the ever-increasing fares, and the environment. It has sabotaged a real opportunity for a reliable, attractive alternative to the car.

Outside London the bus industry continues as a shambles. London was never de-regulated because the evidence from the rest of the country after the 1985-86 Act was not good.

With reports coming back of the ensuing chaos in the provinces, the Tories became increasingly anxious about the effects that such a chaotic and disfunctional system would have on the capital. The plan was quietly shelved.

It is ironic that London is now seen as an example of how the rest of the country could and should be regulated, with bus operators working under a franchising system that is fully accountable to Transport for London.

Of course, the bus monopolies still make huge guaranteed profits from these franchises.

Shortly after the Act, chaos reigned in most of the big cities in the provinces.

Prime town-centre bus station sites were sold off for housing or retail development, with passengers then having to wait on street corners with no shelter or information.

Reports of buses from competing companies racing each other down profitable city-centre high streets trying to get to the bus stop first became an everyday story.

Road safety took second place in the quest for profits and the whole sorry saga resembled something from the ‘Wild West’!

Everything has been cut to the bone.

Spare drivers on standby at depots, ready to fill in for sudden illness or emergencies, have been swept away.

Spare buses ready to use in the event of breakdowns or accidents have been scrapped.

Under the new regime if anything goes wrong then the service is cut out.

Existing fleets are worked to death with the inevitable consequences.

When deregulation and privatisation came in, the reliability of public transport went out. People can no longer rely on their bus turning up on time, if they turn up at all!

This has led to more and more people turning to the car, with more congestion, more pollution and more delays for public transport.

Meanwhile, out in the rural areas, services are being de-registered by greedy operators glad to be rid of services that bring in low or marginal profits.

This then leaves local councils having to pick up the tab with a subsidy if they want the service to continue.

Operators are regularly notifying local councils of their intention to end a service claiming it is losing money. In many cases local councils are duty bound to save the service by subsidising it.

In June First Group announced it was withdrawing nine bus routes in Somerset and Dorset, claiming they were unviable and leaving much of central and northern Dorset without any regular bus services.

Dorset currently spends just under £2m a year on supporting bus services.

The major flaw is that councils are prevented from checking the accounts of bus operators to see whether their claims of a service losing money are honest, accurate and above board.

The private operators just cannot lose!

At the end of last month, Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority Chairman, Roger Jones, complained that under the present system, he was effectively giving away £2m of public money each week with little or no control over the aspects of bus services that matter most to users, in particular fares and frequencies.

He added: ‘You should never, ever give public money to anybody if they are not providing a good service in return, and that’s what we are doing at the moment.

‘As an elected councillor, I think the public should say to me that if you are handing money over for a bad service then you probably should be in jail.

‘And that’s where I should be but I’m afraid the law says at the moment that in return for various services . . we have to hand the money over to the operators.’

Privatisation and deregulation means cost cutting and saving money becomes a daily obsession.

First Manchester has been in repeated trouble at public inquiries over incidents of wheels becoming detached from its buses whilst in service in the city and others found operating without MOTs.

In July this year, Senior Traffic commissioner Philip Brown attacked First after presiding over the third public inquiry into maintenance problems at its Bristol bus business in five years.

In the strongest language yet from a Traffic Commissioner, Brown suggested that if corrective action was not implemented quickly it may not deserve to be allowed to continue in business.

Last week, First Glasgow appeared at a vehicle maintenance-related public inquiry to explain why 173 of its buses have been issued with prohibition notices by vehicle examiners over the past five years.

And finally, what of the poor long suffering passengers?

They have had to endure the most with unreliable services, regular fare increases which they have no control over, many old polluting buses that should have been sent to the scrap yard many years ago, staff who are stressed from working too many hours, services that can be discontinued with just six weeks notice with no guarantee of a replacement, many bus stops with no protection from the elements or readily available information.

There is also a right-wing national bus user organisation, Bus Users UK (formerly the National Federation of Bus Users), that is part-funded by the private bus companies, which purports to be an independent voice for bus users.

This outfit supports privatisation and is opposed to the re-regulation of bus services.

The Labour government has overseen the scandalous condition bus services are in throughout the country, with a handful of monopolies making millions out of inadequate, but expensive, bus services.

Giving the privateers free rein with bus services to pocket a fortune is the policy of premier Tony Blair and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

It is clear that the trade unions and millions of workers who rely on buses must fight to re-nationalise this vital service to provide properly-regulated, cheap and efficient public transport.

The Labour government must be replaced with a workers’ government which will bring in a planned socialist transport system.