England’s buses “expensive, unreliable and dysfunctional” – damning findings of a former UN human rights expert

Bus stop image; Pic credit: Pexels Suzy Hazelwood

A report out today by Philip Alston, the former United Nations rapporteur on human rights, condemns the outcome of Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation of the country’s bus services for denying rights to the people of the UK. He came to the UK to interview people about bus services and contacted some of the bus companies.

In a stinging review he finds that many people have lost jobs and benefits, faced barriers to healthcare, been forced to give up on education, sacrificed food and utilities, and been cut off from friends and family because of a costly, fragmented, and inadequate privatized bus service that has failed them.
“Over the past 35 years, deregulation has provided a master class in how not to run an essential public service, leaving residents at the mercy of private actors who have total discretion over how to run a bus route, or whether to run one at all,” said Philip Alston, who authored the report with Bassam Khawaja and Rebecca Riddell, Co-directors of the Human Rights and Privatization Project at New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. “In case after case, service that was once dependable, convenient, and widely-used has been scaled back dramatically or made unaffordable.”

He describes the form of privatisation as the most extreme possible – with the exception of London where Transport for London has overall control of how private operators run services.

He is also critical of the government’s new bus strategy started by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, saying merely tinkers with the existing system, offering ineffective half measures that fail to address the structural cause of the
country’s bus crisis.

Philip Alston getting people’s views at a public meeting in Newham, East London. Pic credit: Bassam Khawaja

Some of the points in the report.

“People living in London, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can get a concessionary pass to travel for free on buses at the age of 60, an important measure that guarantees older people access to transport. But in England outside London, the government has tied the bus pass to the female state pension age—which was changed from 60 to 66, severely penalizing those on the cusp of retirement who had every expectation that they could rely on a pension and a free bus pass in the next phase of their lives. The UK government should rectify this injustice

“The abysmal state of the bus system in many rural areas is perhaps the strongest argument against a deregulated, for-profit approach to public transportation.

” There is no reason why rural parts of the United Kingdom cannot have a functioning bus service. The Zurich region of Switzerland guarantees villages of 300 people or more at least an hourly service seven days a week. In North Hesse, Germany, bus routes reach all communities with more than 200-250 residents on at least an hourly basis, with ambitions to double public transport use by 2030. Notably, none of these systems rely on an unregulated market to provide this essential service.”

He makes a strong case for bus services to be returned to public ownership and for Parliament to lay down minimum standards for the provision of bus services.

This really is a damning indictment of the state of bus services in England and it has human rights implications because women, people with disabilities, the poor and those living in rural areas cannot access services or get jobs because of poor transport. As usual ministers are pretending they provide good services while other similarly rich countries -like Switzerland and Germany -provide services that English people can only dream about. In the meantime the bus operators make good profits by not providing the services they need.

Philip Alston hears from people affected in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Pic credit: Bassam Khawaja

8 thoughts on “England’s buses “expensive, unreliable and dysfunctional” – damning findings of a former UN human rights expert

  1. Not owning a car for a few years now I’m having to use the village bus. Only five a day every two Hours if it turns up . £4.40 return no bus pass until I’m 66 (another 14 months) the last bus from town is 4pm if you work later than that it’s a taxi £10/£15.. it would be great to have one bus running later even if it was just once or twice a week. I’m considering moving into town .

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    • i can beat that! prison before this one was a tiny little village, only 2 buses a day and half the time they did not turn up….can’t remember the prices but awkward/ pointless time as well, like 09:15 and 16:45…taxi was like £30! i’d never carry a bus pass on principle as they all got these rfid chips in them constantly transmitting your location all the time….if they wanted to be sensible on curbing emissions and making places accessible all public transport would be FREE at the point of use, paid for out of local taxation….they started a trail on that somewhere year before last I think, netherlands maybe? I’m left wondering how that’s doing…..of course plandemic would have skewed the data on that!

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  2. My niece applied for a post working for a company based in Newcastle upon Tyne transport was not a problem as there is good transport links between here home and the City Centre. At the interview she was told she be working two days in the city office and three days in a office on an industrial estate just outside the city. She discovered that the train journey was 1 hour 6 min the bus 1 hour 38min and included a Ferry journey, the ferry running every half hour then wait wait for a bus to take her to the bus station to get another bus to her destination. A taxi cost from £24 of course she could go by car, but she unable to drive for medical reasons, but capable of travelling 3+ hours a day to work. So what you be saying to yourself is why travel all that distance? If I told you the distance was 12 miles would you be surprised. So they built a large industrial estate and a good road network, but totally forgot about public transport, This is one example and no doubt the above as been replicated throughout the country. If you do not have a car or the internet you can soon become marginalised in England.

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    • Yes it ridiculous. I remember years ago we had a really good bus service reasonable prices. By the time your niece gets to work it’s cost her a fortune. I’m also unable to drive due to illness.

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  3. I need to take 3 different buses, from 3 different companies, to get to my nearest Aldi. Due to the non-joined up timetable it’s a round trip of 5 hours that would take one in a car

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  4. More Thatcher’s countless failures still being repeated by today’s spivs under Johnson. All of them getting seriously rich by doing nothing to help this country
    Thatcher?…..she should never have had a costly public-funded funeral; she didn’t earn it. She was the biggest spiv of all…with her
    ×NHS Internal market – read expensive prequel to full NHS privatisation underway now.
    ×Trickledown – read greedy paper shufflers in the Square Mile who she said would earn enough for UK and that we didn’t need ‘industry’ in UK
    ×Non-Industry strategy – read China-based imports of all manufactured goods, plus Covid Pandemic, plus even biggest killer Hornets established outside China.

    She opened the door to the Devil and threw the British people under privatised buses…

    WHom ever votes Tory, is responsible for all of this continuing.

    Liked by 1 person

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