Over half of all bus journeys in England take place within just one city. It won’t surprise you to know that the city in question is London, but that statistic is still shocking. In 2018/19, 2.2 billion bus journeys were made in the capital compared to 2.12 billion in the whole of the rest of the country. And each year the gap in bus use between London and the rest of England grows. Over the past decade, bus use in London has decreased by just 1.4%, whilst elsewhere it has shrunk by an incredible 11.4%.
There are, of course, many reasons for this imbalance between London and the rest of the country, but they are all linked. The fact is that London has the best bus system in the country – the buses are cheaper, more frequent, there are more routes and they are integrated with other public transport. That London has better buses is no accident. It all comes back to Margaret Thatcher’s Tory Government in the 80s, which deregulated buses everywhere in England… other than London.
I’ve written about how immensely damaging this deregulation has been for Greater Manchester previously. Our buses are far too expensive (all bus journeys in London are just £1.50, including unlimited changes within 90 minutes), too irregular and we have to fight to keep vital routes running as some private operators focus on profit over service.
Unfortunately, this deregulation has created something of a vicious circle. The worse our bus services become, the fewer people use them, which leads them to get even worse and even fewer people to use them, and so on and so on. We need to break this cycle.
Luckily, our Metro Mayor Andy Burnham gets this and wants major reform of our buses, bringing them under local control. There is a consultation on the proposals for a new franchising system and I’d encourage you to take part at www.gmconsult.org before the 29 January deadline.
Buses are a vital lifeline for those without access to private cars, but they should be much more than that. In the future for transport that I’d like to see, buses would be the preferred method of transport for local journeys by those both with and without cars. For this to become a reality though, we urgently need a better bus system where taking the bus is a cheap, convenient and pleasant experience. Thankfully, I think Greater Manchester is heading firmly in that direction.