A lot of people are getting exercised about the forthcoming rail workers strike which could lead to up to a week of disruption: Britain’s rail strikes: which trains will be running where and when? 15.6.22. Just a week of disruption and unless the government have plans to turn this into a re-run of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, it will eventually be negotiations and a settlement. It will be over. For bus users, as the title of this piece suggests, with services increasingly falling apart in a growing number of locations, it can feel like every day is a strike day.
Here are some stark facts that provide background to this sorry tale: Quarter of bus routes axed in England in last decade 4.4.22. The thing is, this is not stopping. As a consequence of the lockdowns implemented from March 2022 in a bid to contain Covid, bus services have seen a drop off in passenger numbers and a loss of drivers. This is putting more routes at threat of closure: First Bus cuts: Parts of Bristol face ‘Third World-style’ service as changes come into force this Sunday 22.4.22 and: ‘Poorly used’ bus services in Bath cut as local leaders slam move 26.4.22 and: The 18 loss-making bus services Bristol will lose in August without extra funding 3.6.22.
UPDATE 17.6.22: Subsidised bus services across the West of England given a reprieve.
It looks as though an immediate threat to a number of bus services in and around Bristol has been lifted after the leaders of the West of England Combined Authority, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset FINALLY got their act together to sort out who’ll pay for them. However, there’s a LONG way to go before people in the region get the bus service they deserve.
It’s a vicious downward spiral. The more services are cut and the less reliable they become, the fewer people will be using them, resulting in operators cutting more services. The problem is that in a fair few locations, there isn’t a viable alternative. We’re (hopefully) going to be relocating to near Bristol this summer to be closer to family. We sure as heck weren’t going for the bus services which are in a dire state or the local rail network which is threadbare. Bristol and the surrounding areas lost a lot of suburban rail services when the closures implemented by Beeching were implemented from 1963 onwards. Large chunks of Bristol and the surrounding area do not have a local rail service. If you don’t drive, you have to rely on a flaky bus service.
If you live on one of the peripheral estates in and around Bristol or one of the villages in the adjacent countryside and your service is cut, basically you’re screwed. You may be lucky enough to have some kind of food shopping within walking distance. On the other hand, as we found out when we were looking for somewhere to relocate to, there are plenty of locations that do not have any reasonable kind of food shopping within walking distance. Bus service cuts mean non-drivers ending up stranded and effectively prisoners in their own neighbourhoods. The problem is that the way us non-drivers who rely on buses are discussed in derogatory terms, we’re seen as easy targets whose concerns can be dismissively swept under the carpet when services are cut. So if non-drivers end up effectively stranded in their neighbourhoods living a very restricted life, somehow that doesn’t seem to matter to a lot of people.
That’s not acceptable. A growing number of people are realising this is not acceptable. The number of people getting together to defend existing services and using that as a base to fight for better services is growing. Regardless of whether we end up moving to near Bristol or staying here in Thurrock, it looks like we’ll be a part of this. Sure, our communities could be better planned to reduce reliance on cars as we discussed here: 15 minute cities / neighbourhoods – a good or a bad idea? 23.3.22 and here: Connectivity vs convenience 16.4.22, but that will only come after a major social transformation. Fighting for better bus services may not be the sexiest issue around but it’s a vital bread and butter one that impacts people’s lives and in our view, is one that has to be supported.