Illustration by Adam Q

Displaced life: Our buses are faring badly

Travelling is an important way to reduce social isolation and to connect with others. That’s why we all deserve a right to good, affordable public transport
June 16, 2022

Why do I travel? So that I can come back and see the place I came from with new eyes. And so that the people still there see me differently when I return. I’ve learnt that coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

For people seeking asylum in a foreign land, travelling is a complicated experience. It can feel brutal, depressing and anxiety-provoking, but you can also experience a sense of wonder about where you are going. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that is familiar and comforting. For a while, you are off balance—nothing is yours except what is essential: sleep, dreams, sea, the sky. Everything points to the life you aspire to, or what you imagine it to be.

In my first two years in the UK, I found travelling in London intimidating but also exhilarating, adventurous and engaging. But access to public transport is not equally distributed across the UK. In Doncaster, the practical question of getting from A to B can be fraught. Over the past few years, I’ve watched the number of public transport services decline, limiting the socialising that is at the core of local life for the elderly and young alike. A 2020 review of South Yorkshire buses found their frequency to be poor in many parts of the region, and 60 per cent of people surveyed were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the reliability of the services.

Public transport in London is so reasonable: £1.65 for unlimited bus journeys within an hour, with all parts of the city well connected, encouraging you to socialise. In Doncaster and Leeds, standard bus prices range from £2.20 to £2.60 and travelling within South Yorkshire for the day costs about £5—whether you’re travelling to Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster or Sheffield. There are so many different types of ticket for different lines that it’s difficult to work out which is the best value for money. And the prices are even less affordable in other parts of the country—a day ticket in some areas of the northeast can cost you upwards of £7. Some local authorities are trying their best to keep their towns, cities and boroughs connected. But of course funding is an issue.

Staff shortages and strikes on the bus network caused problems for my asylum claim: I was previously required to report to a Home Office centre in Sheffield once a fortnight; now I must do so monthly. Sometimes, delayed buses meant I was late for appointments or unable to attend, which could lead to a sanction or penalty. And although you can call the Home Office and explain that the issue is not your fault, it will still be used against you.

When you are seeking asylum the barriers of language, culture and stigma must be overcome to enjoy travel around the country. Depression and anxiety can be an anchor, tethering you to the spot. Going away will encourage you to open up to others and, most importantly, let you know you are not alone. I remember planning and going on day trips or short breaks every couple of weeks to different places in Yorkshire, but with the reduction in bus schedules I’ve gone from enjoying regular adventures to only being able to take less frequent trips.

Short weekend breaks are so therapeutic, but finding these little bargains is not easy. One has to remain vigilant: Durham, Norwich, Dorset, Edinburgh, Powys and Alnwick are just a few places I’ve had the pleasure of going to. Being prepared before travelling is a must, especially if it’s by coach, which I use more often than trains when travelling outside of my local authority.

Travelling is an important way to reduce social isolation and increase connectivity with all communities. We all deserve fair access to public transport. Currently, the underfunding of the bus network makes it extremely difficult not only for me and others seeking asylum here in the UK, but for British people too. It’s disconnecting us from one another, and I can’t help but wonder if it plays a part in the alarming increase in mental health issues.