Wednesday, 3 August 2016

1608.03 PUBLIC TRANSPORT HAS FAILED

Back in 1986 an act of parliament deregulated bus services in the UK. Prior to this buses were run by local authorities or the government owned National Bus Company. Back then I was 15 years old, public transport was my primary method of getting about. In fact it was a lot of people's primary method of getting about. Fares were cheap and buses were frequent, plentiful and reliable. Because of this the knock on effect was that the roads were relatively congestion free (there were traffic jams but nothing on today's scale). The government of the day thought that a free market system would be good for the system providing competition that would in turn lead to better services.
Source: Guy Arab (Flickr)
Fast forward 20 years. Has the market created a transport system that work. Has it hell! Those market forces initially saw loads of start up bus companies driving old and potentially dangerous buses (that had probably previously been sent for scrap), those companies scrambled for customers on the profitable corridors ignoring the rural and quieter routes. Fares more than doubled overnight and since that time have continued to increase. The roads have become congested as passengers move away to private cars. Most of the local authority bus companies along with the smaller operations have merged into a small number of large operators who control the majority of the UK bus companies.
Source: citytransport.info
In contrast London's model is more of a tender system where private bus companies bid to run specific routes with fares and timetables set by the local authority.

So what happens now? I hope public transport isn't dying as I would love to see it as the future of getting out and about. I don't see private cars as a sustainable transport for everyday travel. The problem is now also cultural. I know people that wouldn't dream of using public transport and see it as 'beneath them', this snobbish behaviour might be the biggest stumbling block even if investment and infrastructure is improved.

My wish is for the London model to be taken up in other urban areas across the country with fares subsidised which will in turn will mean people hopefully will choose to leave their cars at home. I used to work in a deregulated public transport industry (all be it 10 years ago) and use it regularly, my transport priorities are cycling, public transport, private car.

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