Buses outside London are a mess and, unlike in the capital, they are often the only form of public transport availableby Jennifer Williams / July 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
The first time I asked a journalistic question of a politician was about 15 years ago, while working for Manchester University’s student paper. A senior Tory MP had been invited in by the student Conservative movement, and there had been something particularly bothering me that I wanted to put to him.
I had recently moved from the border of Moss Side—backing onto Princess Road, the main southern arterial route into the city—to the more traditional student area of Fallowfield, a couple of miles away.
For those unfamiliar with south Manchester, Fallowfield sits at the heart of the busiest bus route in Europe, where you rarely need to wait more than 10 minutes for a cheap bus at any time of the day or night. It is a route that takes you through the Curry Mile and student-land, and on into the city’s leafiest and most affluent suburbs.
However on Princess Road, which runs parallel to that route through some of south Manchester’s poorest neighbourhoods, including Moss Side, the city’s buses did not run at night, operated far less frequently and cost three or four times as much.
This baffled me. Surely the people living there needed decent buses too? And so, in my naïve way, I asked whether the Conservatives—then in opposition—would consider changing things once in power. They stared at me like I had come down from the moon.
The moment stayed with me. Now, in 2018, the buses here—and across the UK—are in an even worse state, but I have a better understanding of why.
Since the de-regulation of the bus network in the 1980s, services and routes have been commercially led by operators, albeit propped up by public subsidy where the market can’t or won’t provide.
Once austerity hit, an axe was taken to what were then comparatively generous local bus grants, which have dropped by around 45 per cent since the cuts started to bite around 2010.
So with the commercial market now providing the impetus more than ever before, lucrative corridors remain awash with buses, while in other areas, services that were already patchy have diminished or, especially on rural routes, actually stopped.
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