Lancaster MP Cat Smith stands up for bus passengers

editorial image

Lancaster MP Cat Smith has backed a campaign launched on the 30 year anniversary of bus deregulation, which calls on MPs to ‘take control of our buses’ by opposing the government ban on new public bus companies.

Ms Smith received a number of emails from constituents raising the issue and asking her to support the campaign.

The government wants the Bus Services Bill currently being debated to include clause 21 which would stop English local authorities from setting up new municipal companies.

The clause was defeated on Monday in the House of Lords but is expected to be introduced again in the Commons.

We Own It asked MPs to show they support bus passengers and oppose the clause by taking part in a photoshoot.

On the 30th anniversary of bus deregulation, We Own It is also asking bus passengers to send their ‘bus selfies’ and explain why they want public ownership to be an option for local authorities.

The Transport Act 1985 was implemented on October 26th, 1986. Since deregulation, fares have risen well above inflation and many routes have been cut.

Fares in England (outside London) rose by 35 per cent above inflation between 1995 and 2013.

Bus mileage on local authority supported services in England outside London dropped by 12.3 per cent just in the last year.

Bus deregulation leaves few options for cash-strapped local authorities – whereas municipal companies like Reading Buses can use profits to reinvest in services.

Cat Hobbs, director of We Own It, said: “It’s absurd that after 30 years of the failures of private bus companies, the government is ruling out new public ownership of buses.

“It’s time to take control of our buses and run them for people not profit. All councils should be not just allowed but encouraged to follow the lead of the public ownership success stories in Nottingham and Reading.”

While buses are privatised in most towns and cities across the UK, there are 12 local authority-owned bus companies, for examples in Edinburgh, Nottingham and Blackpool.

In four of the last five years, local authority run buses have won Bus Operator of the Year at the Bus Awards.

Ms Smith said: “Thanks to the damage done by deregulation, bus companies have been able to put profit above passengers for the past 30 years.

“The Tories said deregulation would improve our buses but the proof has been in the pudding: rising fares, plummeting patronage and too many areas where pensioners have a bus pass but no bus.

“London rejected deregulation and has a much better service today. Almost half of bus company income comes from the public purse, but buses aren’t treated as a public service. Commercial operators can simply pull a route or service and stretched local authorities are left to pick up the pieces.

“With the Bus Services Bill soon to arrive in the House of Commons, Labour will be fighting to change that.”

Research from Transport for Quality of Life suggests we could save £506 million a year from buses outside London by bringing them into public ownership.

Municipal bus companies are common in other European countries such as Austria, France and Germany.

We Own It polling shows that 57% of the British public think local authorities should be allowed to set up new public bus companies – as opposed to 22 per cent who don’t believe they should have this power. Amongst Conservatives, the majority still oppose clause 21.

More than four times as many people want more public ownership of buses than want more private ownership (46 per cent to 11 per cent), while 26 per cent want to see no change.