18 February 2021
In May, voters will go to the polls to elect a new mayor for West Yorkshire. Across the region, transport is a major issue. From unreliable buses, to overpriced trains, our current transport system isn't working.
Public control of our bus network must therefore be a central part of West Yorkshire’s transport strategy. That's why it should be at the heart of Tracy Brabin's campaign to be the region's next mayor.
Brabin's commitment to “transport for people, not profit” is welcome. Our public transport network needs to put the needs of West Yorkshire’s residents first. To achieve the rapid increase in public transport use we need to deal with the climate crisis, we should focus on expanding the region's bus network - which already accounts for two-thirds of all journeys on public transport.
When seeking the backing of Labour Party members, Brabin also stated that “buses should be publicly controlled to put people before profit.”
These are vital commitments. They need to be kept to. We've seen time and time again that the privatised bus 'market' isn't working for residents of West Yorkshire.
Privatisation is failing in countless ways:
- We have lost over 5 million miles of bus services since 2013, which is 9% of the service. This is because bus companies run our bus network solely for profit, rather than as an essential service to the community.
- Deregulation is inefficient. English Metropolitan Areas, like West Yorkshire, spend significantly more in public subsidy on bus transport per passenger than London (which is under public control).
- A private bus network sees West Yorkshire people’s hard-earned money flow out of the region, rather than being reinvested to improve services. In 2017, more than £6 million was paid out to shareholders of the five biggest private bus companies operating in the region.
- More than ever before, this pandemic has shown that bus companies put their profits before providing quality services. Nationally, they have received over £1 billion in public money, but they still have threatened to cut services, and reduce the sick pay conditions of hardworking staff. We need more control over public money going to buses.
There is an alternative to this chaos, cuts and profiteering. We could bring our buses into public control. This would allow us to:
- Plan an integrated network, with simple fares across all buses, trams and trains, and we can use profits from busy commuter corridors to subsidise socially necessary bus routes, meaning every community gets the service they need (Transport for Quality of Life, Building a World-class Bus System for Britain).
- Make better use of public money. Roughly 10% of the public money that goes into supporting bus services leaks out through dividends. The dividends paid out by bus companies from routes in London are around half the level of those in Metropolitan Areas like West Yorkshire. Public control would save the UK an estimated £114 million by retaining these excess profits, which could be reinvested into our services (Transport for Quality of Life, Building a World-class Bus System for Britain).
- Invest with more security. Under deregulation, bus companies can cancel their routes with just 70 days notice. This reduces the case for investing in transport infrastructure, like bus lanes or stops, as they may not be in use in 3 months time. Under public control companies would sign 5 to 10 year contracts to deliver services, guaranteeing value for money on infrastructure projects.
- Give workers on West Yorkshire’s buses a better deal, reversing the ‘race to the bottom’ in terms and conditions caused by deregulation (Transport for Quality of Life, Building a World-class Bus System for Britain, es.5).
Bringing buses into public control is the answer. There is no alternative.
The supposed alternatives proposed by private bus companies - voluntary or statutory partnerships - leave nearly all the power in the hands of those very same bus companies. Changes will only be made to the extent that they deem it in their interests. We need a system that puts the interests of West Yorkshire’s people first.
After repeated lockdowns have left our local businesses reeling, we need an outline of a clear timetable for investigating and implementing bus franchising in Tracy Brabin's manifesto. This will signal to our region’s shops, restaurants and gyms that Brabin will reinvigorate our highstreets by boosting footfall with cheaper and more frequent bus services. It will also give bus drivers and passengers the certainty we need to lend our support to her transport policies.
Brabin has said she wants to be the 'Andy Burnham of West Yorkshire’. She should now follow in his footsteps by pioneering the use of the powers given to Mayors by the Bus Services Act 2017 to explore and implement franchising as a priority.
Not only would public control of our buses be popular (69% of people think local councils should be the main decision-makers on bus services) but we simply do not have time to waste on partnership deals that could fall through at any moment, where bus companies still only run those services that turn them a profit.
We need the security of a better, publicly controlled bus network that will use public money effectively. We need buses that are clean, green, affordable and accessible. Bus companies have not, and cannot, deliver this. But the next mayor of West Yorkshire can.
P.S. This blog was written by We Own It's new better buses campaigner in West Yorkshire Matthew. You'll get to meet him soon, and we'll keep you updated on progress on getting better buses in West Yorkshire.
Image credit: Mtaylor848 - Creative Commons