Why are Britain’s buses in crisis?

A number 15 London bus. Image: Oxyman/Wikimedia Commons.

Buses are Britain’s most frequently used form of public transport: last year, 4.4bn bus trips were made across England, and buses account for 59 per cent of all public transport trips in Great Britain (compared with 21 per cent by rail). But since 2010, local authority funding for buses has halved, and thousands of services have been cut.

This affects everyone, but especially people on low incomes, the young and the elderly. Without immediate action to halt the decline of Britain’s buses, many could be left without a way to access vital services and opportunities – and ultimately, excluded from society.

In England, the young and the elderly collectively account for nearly half of all bus passengers; children under 16 account for 19 per cent, and those aged over 60 account for 25 per cent. Fewer bus services mean their travel options shrink significantly. Working age people – that’s 21- to 59-year-olds – tend to travel more by train.

England’s lowest income people also make 75 per cent of their public transport trips by bus. If we divide the population up into five groups – from the lowest income, to the highest income – then the lowest income group makes three times as many bus trips as the highest income group. By comparison, the highest income group make 20 per cent fewer public transport trips and 75 per cent more private transport trips, while travelling more by train than bus.

Bus services are particularly important to those without access to a private car or van. For them, bus journeys make up 43 per cent of motorised trips – compared with just 4 per cent among people who have access to private transport. Those lower-income households without a car or van also made 30 per cent fewer trips overall in 2016.

But even those households with a car or van suffer from poor public transport options: around 9 per cent of all UK households have a low income but high motoring costs. Without good public transport, these households have no option but to find savings elsewhere, to meet the cost of driving.

How did it come to this?

Outside London, England’s bus market was deregulated and privatised in the mid-1980s, which means that local authorities don’t plan and manage the bus network. Instead, private bus operators decide where, when and how frequently to run buses. Since bus operators are focused on routes that can deliver a profit, the service can be sparse, and tends to be focused on peak hours.

Local authorities can choose to fund socially inclusive bus services to complement the for-profit network - but these services have been hit particularly hard by successive governments’ cuts to local authority budgets. This is because – unlike social care – local authorities are not obliged by law to fund bus services.

Since 2010, local authority bus funding has dropped by 46 per cent – from £374m in 2010-11, to £203m in 2017-18. A few local authorities have cut all subsidies: for example, in Oxfordshire, a 2015 FOI request from the Campaign for Better Transport revealed the agreed total budget for supported bus services in the fiscal year 2018-19 was zero. There, the community had to step in to run their own, not-for-profit service.

Local authority spend on buses in England for each financial year from 2010 to 2018. Image: Buses in Crisis Report.

Bus usage has also been in long-term decline: over the past two decades, miles travelled by bus have fallen 17 per cent. In 1990-1, bus trips accounted for 74 per cent of all public transport trips in Great Britain – today, it’s 59 per cent.

But this isn’t just a result of people switching to other forms of transport. The decline in miles travelled by bus is driven by a steep fall in travel on local government funded bus services. Travel fell 46.6 per cent over the decade to 2016-17, and 13.8 per cent between 2015-16 and 2016-17 alone. Meanwhile, over the same decade, bus miles travelled on commercially operated services have only increased by 1.8 per cemt.

Stopping the fall

Over the last 25 years, bus usage per person has increased by 52 per cent in London, while falling by 40 per cent in England’s other metropolitan areas. More than half of all bus trips in England now happen in London. London has, to some extent, managed to buck the long-term downward trend, because unlike in the rest of England, the bus market there was not deregulated.

Buses galore. Image: davidsbill/Flickr/creative commons.

London retained its ability to strategically plan and manage the routes, frequency, times of operation and fares of its buses. Its model means that profitable routes can cross-subsidise less profitable – but socially important – routes. What’s more, having control of the bus network means all the different modes of public transport can be organised to deliver better travel options to all, and a viable alternative to the car.

In 2017, the UK government passed the Bus Services Act – a tacit acknowledgement that the current deregulated bus market model is not working. The new law gives combined authorities with a directly elected mayor similar powers over bus regulation to London.


Only six regions currently qualify: Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, the West of England and West Midlands. Elsewhere, local government services are being cut further, while private companies provide limited services at high prices (over the past two decades bus fares across England have risen 45 per cent in real terms).

The Bus Services Act also bans local authorities from setting up their own bus service. Well-run municipal bus companies could save local authorities money which could blunt the severity of bus cuts - Nottingham and Reading are successful examples of this model.

The ConversationRegulating the bus market would clear the way for bus services to address transport inequality and poverty. Bus services help tackle social exclusion and loneliness, and allow those living outside the city centre and without a car to access employment, education and healthcare. As bus services are cut, not only do many people’s travel options shrink or vanish – so does their ability to be a part of society.

Nicole Badstuber, Researcher in Urban Transport Governance at the Centre for Transport Studies, UCL.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.


What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.