buses are better in public hands
Yet since privatisation in the 1980s fares have gone up and thousands of bus routes have been cut, leaving passengers stranded. We need public ownership.
There are already ten publicly owned municipal bus companies in the UK doing fantastic work.* Public ownership would save us £506 million a year that could be invested in developing better bus networks and lower fares for you. Those savings could even pay for 1,356 new electric buses.
30 years ago, our bus services were deregulated and privatised. This has been a disaster for our buses. Fares went up and routes that weren’t profitable were cut, meaning you now pay more for less.
Bus trips outside of London have halved since the privatisation of our buses. We lost £1.49 billion to shareholders in the ten years to 2019 due to privatisation and fares in England have gone up 71% since 2005.
Regardless of one company saying they retain ‘a strong balance sheet’, and Stagecoach issuing a statement saying that they have “£290m of available cash and undrawn... to underpin the continuity of the business”, bus companies have been offered hundreds of millions of pounds in bailouts during the coronavirus crisis. Because we have little control of our bus services outside of London (where they have public control), there was a risk that bus services could 'disappear'. We need public control and ownership of our buses immediately.
Privatisation and deregulation have failed
'The overall impact of bus deregulation has been negative. Fares have increased whilst operator costs have gone down.' The Public Policy Institute for Wales
Privatisation has not helped our bus services in the UK. The Institute for Public Policy’s 2014 report ‘Greasing the Wheels’ concluded that bus deregulation outside of London has been a failure. In London, buses are run by private companies but the network is regulated by Transport for London which can make sure that routes and fares work for passengers. That's why people outside London have been hit hardest by privatisation. 19% of workers have had to turn down a job due to poor quality bus services.
This has led to the development of ‘transport deserts’: areas where people are severely limited in their ability to connect with friends and family, benefit from employment and education, and access shops and other services. Across the north east and south west of England, 56% of small rural towns have become transport deserts or are at risk of becoming one. A Guardian investigation in 2019 found that single journey fares outside of London can run up to a staggering £6 for a Stagecoach ticket.
How long have you been waiting for a great bus to come along?
The five largest private bus companies - Arriva, First, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach – carry 70% of all passengers. Only 1% of bus services face head-to-head competition, which a 2011 Competition Commission report has shown has led to lower quality services and higher fares. This report also notes how customers are get on the first bus that comes along - of course they do! Bus services are natural monopolies that should be run as an integrated network, not a competitive market.
Transport for Quality of Life found that deregulation stops our bus networks from achieving 13 out of the 16 essential attributes of a world-class bus system.
Let’s take back control of our buses: for a greener, brighter future
But, things could be different. 40% of bus company revenue is actually public money provided by the government and local authorities. The rest comes from our fares. We pay for our buses so we should have a say in how they are run.
Countries such as Germany and Switzerland have invested in their public transport network with impressive results: integrated systems in public control means bus services can be available for every village, every hour.
Our public transport will be key to transitioning to a low-carbon economy. 57% of motorists would use their car less if bus fares were lower, and services more reliable. With public ownership, we can transition to zero emission fleets, accessible to all, with the planet and communities placed ahead of profit.
The ridiculous ban on new public bus companies
Despite the failures of the past 30 years, the government is so ideological that it still thinks private bus companies know best. It has decided to ban local councils in England from establishing new publicly owned bus companies. And there isn't even an operator of last resort arrangement for buses, in case a company stops running services. This doesn’t make any sense. Our publicly owned bus companies are efficient and very popular with their customers, which is why a 2016 Transport Committee report supported the right of local authorities to establish new municipal bus companies.
"The proposal to ban local authorities from running bus companies flies in the face of reason. Public transport of all kinds reduces pollution, cuts down traffic congestion and provides affordable transport for all who either cannot afford to finance car ownership or who have made the forward-thinking... decision to choose other transport options than the car. " Marc Edwards, We Own It supporter
We love publicly owned buses
How do we know that publicly owned bus services would be successful? Because they already are! Public ownership is already the norm elsewhere in Europe, such as in Germany where publicly owned operators provide 88% of all local public transport journeys. Publicly owned buses have also achieved lots in the UK. The 2016 UK Bus Awards were a resounding success for public ownership – with publicly owned Reading buses winning three awards and publicly owned Nottingham City Transport being named UK Bus Operator of the Year for the third year in a row.
As a municipally owned bus service, Reading Buses can invest an additional £3 million a year in the bus network (around 12-15% of its annual turnover) because it doesn't pay out dividends to private shareholders. The extra money means better quality buses, one of the greenest fleets in the UK, and contributes to more people taking the bus in Reading.
The UK’s largest public bus company, Lothian Buses, operates 70 routes in Edinburgh and the surrounding area. Levels of customer satisfaction for Lothian Buses are the highest in the industry and the publicly owned company recently returned £5.5 million to the public purse.
Victory for Better Buses in Manchester!
In March 2021 the Mayor of Greater Mancherter, Andy Burnham, made the decision to bring the region’s buses back into public control. This means that private companies will no longer be in the driving seat, with local authorities planning the network and taking revenue, subsidising routes, ensuring better conditions for staff, and capping fares.
This huge victory belongs to the passengers, workers, campaigners, community groups and unions who came together as a broad coalition with the Better Buses for Greater Manchester campaign!
The people of Manchester took on the bus company fat cats and won: organising in each local authority, bringing passengers to speak to local leaders directly, getting press at every turn, and taking creative direct action. They built a clear mandate, with 80% of the public responding to the official consultation in favour of public control. Hear more about how it happened here.
As the first place outside of London to have a regulated bus system since the 1980s, Manchester is paving the way towards public control across the country.
How we win back our buses for everyone
Communities everywhere need reliable, frequent and affordable buses.
Better Buses for West Yorkshire is gaining speed: sign the petition calling on Tracy Brabin, newly elected Mayor, to end the wild west free market and bring back buses for West Yorkshire!
And find out how to join the fight in Glasgow with Get Glasgow Moving.
* We make the current bus networks in public ownership to be ten. That includes Dumfries and Galloway, Newport, Cardiff, Lothian in Edinburgh, Nottingham, Reading, Warrington, Ipswich, Northern Ireland's government-owned Translink, and Blackpool!