The TUC responded on Thursday to cuts to bus routes by privateers set to be implemented across the country calling for all bus networks to be nationalised.
The TUC said in a statement: ‘A third of all bus routes could be lost across the country leaving communities and commuters stranded without vital transport links.
‘Bus operators are calling for the government to extend emergency funding beyond the April deadline, until passenger numbers return. The government should provide support to ensure that services people rely on can continue.
‘But the best long-term solution for the bus industry is public ownership.
‘Since the start of the pandemic, bus services outside of London have been supported by the government to compensate for the collapse in passenger numbers. Much of that support has gone to operators in the form of Bus Recovery Grants.
‘This scheme is due to end on 5th April but passenger numbers remain at only 70 per cent of pre-Covid levels. Operators have to give 6 weeks’ notice before cancelling routes so many of them are already starting to make decisions about cuts.
‘Bus transport is a lifeline connecting communities to family and friends, jobs and amenities.
‘Without it, those who can afford to will switch permanently to cars undermining the country’s commitment to climate action.
‘Many of those who can’t afford cars, people in remote areas, or with mobility problems will be at risk of isolation. Communities, local economies and the environment will suffer too.
‘This is a short-term funding crisis with serious consequences. And it is building on a decades-long flaw in our public transport system. Outside London, most bus services have been unregulated and privatised for decades.
‘The result is that ticket prices have rocketed while service quality has suffered and even before the pandemic the number of passenger journeys by bus fell 12 per cent between 1982 and 2020.
‘Workers have suffered too. 16,000 jobs were lost in the bus industry over the last decade. 2,000 of those were lost in the last year alone. And for those that remain, wages have plummeted, dropping 10 per cent over the last year and falling below the level they were at 10 years ago.
‘In London, Transport For London (TfL) faces devastating cuts because of a huge hole in its budget. London is the only major European capital that receives no central funding for its transport system.
‘That means when the pandemic hit, it was particularly vulnerable. The government has provided short-term patches to prevent collapse, but no long-term solutions.
‘The lack of sustainable funding means vital investment needed to tackle London’s air quality: walking and cycling infrastructure has already been cut. In the future, whole tube lines could be lost.
‘The common thread here is that the government is providing short-term patches to long-term problems. TfL needs a proper funding settlement so it can invest in infrastructure, services, and staff for the future.
‘Bus Recovery Grants were vital in helping the rest of the industry get through the first two years of the pandemic, but our bus system needs major structural change.
‘The government has spent the last two years directly funding private operators.
‘Now it’s time to ditch the half measures. Public ownership would ensure that popular routes which are profitable cross-subsidise vital but less profitable ones that serve more remote areas or passengers that have mobility issues.
‘Publicly run buses like those in Nottingham and Reading already provide far better services and return a profit to the public sector without funding leaking out via shareholders dividends.
‘This situation has been years in the making but we don’t have years to fix it. The government should take radical action now, or it wont just be bus operators facing a crisis.’
Meanwhile, Battersea and Wandsworth Trade Union Council (BWTUC) has joined with London Bus Watch in calling for the safe operations of buses as a new study by GMB London of official figures published quarterly by Transport for London has found that since 2014, 45 people were killed and 1,017 seriously injured in collisions by TfL outsourced London buses.
There were 140 people injured in collisions with buses in Wandsworth over this period of which two were killed and five required hospital treatment.
Overall, over this period, 4,736 people have been injured in collisions by TfL buses. This is 2.7 people per day every day since the beginning of 2014. Of those injured, an average of 4.3 people have been killed or seriously injured every week over nearly five years.
A London Bus Watch meeting to step up the campaign for the safe operation of TfL outsourced buses is being held at the London Labour Party Conference today.
The meeting will call on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to make the safe operation of buses by the outsourced private for-profit operators the top priority.
- A ballot has opened, that could lead to Stagecoach West bus drivers based in Swindon striking against the operator.
The trade union Unite is asking around 70 local drivers whether or not they support industrial action, amid a row over pay.
Unite says staff are currently paid around £12 an hour, a dispute that has also embroiled Stagecoach West drivers in Bristol, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Stroud, Coalway and Ross-on-Wye over recent months.
The Swindon employees baulked at a £400 one-off payment offer from their employer, made last month, and are now demanding a seven per cent overall salary increase.
To consider giving strike action the green light, Unite needs a 51 per cent majority of Stagecoach drivers in Swindon to vote in favour.
Unite is also legally required to provide Stagecoach at least two weeks’ notice of any industrial action.
Shevaun Hunt, a regional officer for Unite said: ‘This dispute is solely about pay. For everybody right now, we’re all looking at the way our bills are increasing. The cost of living is going up and up and up and it’s pay that is going to help drivers cushion that blow.
‘The reality is, in this Swindon situation, they (Stagecoach West) have not reached out to contact Unite. Drivers want a clean, no-strings-attached pay offer made to them, that meets their aspirations.
Hunt also cites the financial prowess of Stagecoach as a reason why Unite believes workers deserve an improved salary.
Hunt says the operator’s parent company made £58 million of profit last year and ‘sat on £875 million in liquid cash’.
In response, Stagecoach West claimed Unite is behaving ‘very irrationally’ in pushing ahead with a strike ballot, claiming the two parties have held ‘just one meeting’ so far.
Unite’s ballot started this week and is running until Monday 21st February. If drivers vote in favour, strike action could get underway in March.