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Bashing The Buses, Easy Pickings – But Is It Fair?

Mirror, Mirror on the wall

I read an article recently that appeared in The Mirror newspaper, written by a young lady journalist, who clearly had an angle, which was quite simple and completely unsurprising. She decided to use the bus industry as a good opportunity to bash the bus industry and then to blame the Tories, who have been responsible, in her view, for a 21% decline in bus usage over the 13 years that the Conservatives have been in charge of good old HMS Blighty.

Keir Starmer

Now it does not take Stephen Hawking to work out that as we edge towards the general election, the left-wing Mirror newspaper will happily demean the Tories. Of course, it goes without saying that the Daily Mail, along with Mr Angry from Tunbridge Wells, will happily return serve and undermine Sir Keir Starmer and his merry men until the cows come home. Until Mr Sunak hands over the keys of Number Ten to the aforementioned knight of the realm, or he rings his old mate Boris to get the number of his interior designer to do a refurb for the kids’ playroom.


The Mirror article, to be fair, contained a collection of horror stories experienced by bus passengers from across the UK, and to be fair, I genuinely felt their pain. I spent years of my life dealing with these poor souls face to face. It is frankly awful when the bus does not show up, or the driver is rude, or when essential routes are axed. To those directly affected, these are very real and big changes, with life-changing consequences for those who can no longer get to work, school, or the hospital. It is really important that such complaints are handled with compassion and professionalism, as I always tried to do.

Bashing The Buses pichi

Anarchy In The UK

However, the reality is that over the last two decades, bus mileage has reduced by 21%, or a fifth in old money. By any measure, that is a massive hit compared to, say, the retail or manufacturing sector. Just imagine the economic implications on good old GB if that happened. And what would any government do were they in that calamitous position to put that problem right, I ask myself? They would, of course, bend over backwards to fix the problem, simply to avoid anarchy in the UK. However, very quietly and gingerly, the bus industry has receded bit by bit, county by county, town by town, and in some places city by city.

Big 5 Emerge

Is it the government’s fault, is it indeed the fault of the bus industry, or is it as a result of changing lifestyles, Covid? Answers on a postcard, please. On reflection, I don’t think it is fair to blame any one entity; rather, it is the consequences of a perfect storm of reasons. The reality is that bus use has been declining since the seventies. The introduction of deregulation in 1986 allowed the bus market to introduce innovation and entrepreneurs, but still, the decline continued, decade by decade, despite the best efforts of many. Over time, the big 5 emerged from the smoke, and here we are in 2024, almost 40 years later, 21% lighter in terms of annual bus miles operated.

Austerity Years

However, the rot started to set in with austerity years, where Local Authority funding slashed bus routes far and wide. In addition, greater congestion slowing down journey times resulted in urban bus use decline, a trend that could only be reversed where local partnerships consistently delivered growth, with the usual suspects of Nottingham, Brighton, Reading, etc., proving the value of joined-up thinking resulting in bus-friendly policies like bus lanes, bus priority, reduced car access in city centers, etc. It will be very interesting to see how Manchester’s Bee network works to grow patronage as the old/new model of Local Authority ownership controls local bus networks and fares, far too early to tell yet, but many, including me, will watch with interest.

What Did The Romans Ever Do for Us

To be fair, the case for the defense in a Monty Python-style, for those old enough to remember (in a “What did the Romans Ever Do For Us” kind of way), is that since Boris came to power, the fortunes of the bus did change. He kept the wheels turning during the pandemic, underpinning the importance of the bus in keeping communities alive and kicking. He subsidized the industry, launched BSIP, donated large grants for alternative fuel technology, brought in the two-pound flat fare, and the list could go on. I hope that I have made the point, and slowly patronage is catching up to pre-pandemic levels, albeit with slightly different market segments emerging.

Bus Bashing Is It Right?

So, the question is this: Is it fair to bash the bus? Well, I am obviously biased, but I like to think I am a realist. No, I do not think it is fair to bash the bus, and I probably never will. The fact is, all parties will use all mechanisms in their armory, be it buses or the post office. Nothing that I, or indeed anyone else, can say or do will change that simple fact. At the end of the day, people will make their own decisions and put their ‘X’ on the ballot paper. Time will tell.

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