Extend free bus travel – bring back public ownership!

The Scottish bus network was one of the many victims of Tory privatisation in the 1980s.

That was when the Conservative government in Westminster took it out of public ownership and sold it off – supposedly on the free market, but really into the hands of a few big corporations who have put profit before passengers ever since.

Now, after more than thirty years of this experiment in profiteering, what’s the verdict?

The latest report – Public Transport, Private Profiti – condemns our privatised bus network as not fit for purpose – expensive, unreliable, and dysfunctional.

Fares are too expensive and services are unreliable, blocking access to the people who rely on public transport the most.

Free bus travel needs to be extended to all those receiving Universal Credit and other low-income benefits, and all young people under 25. They are the ones most in need of our public transport, and the ones least able to pay higher and higher fares.

But this alone will not be enough – what’s the point of free bus travel when the network itself is a shambles? Only bringing our public transport back into public ownership will enable us to put people first, and have a system that serves their needs.

Privatisation – a failed experiment

Within the report, passengers describe “a broken system, with disappearing routes, lower frequency, poor reliability, falling ridership, limited coverage, inefficient competition, inadequate information, and no real integration.”

The report also explains how “deregulation has led to a deeply fragmented service, with multiple operators competing in the same areas and sometimes on the same routes, timetables that do not line up between operators or modes of transportation, and endless ticketing options that add needless complication.”

These are not trivial issues – they prevent people getting to their job on time. They prevent job-seekers finding employment. They prevent people getting to the hospital when they need to.

The privatisation of our bus network has had a disastrous impact on our lives, and no one is being held to account for this. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, why has our bus system come to resemble that of a war-torn nation?

Partnerships don’t work

So-called public-private partnerships – like the Bus Partnership Fund being promoted by the Scottish government – are throwing good money after bad. They siphon off public funds – over £300m a year in the case of Scotland – to prop up parasitic transport corporations while doing nothing to deal with the real problems.

Those problems have been created by privatisation itself – why keep on pumping public money into these ailing networks instead of taking them back into public ownership? It’s a false economy and one that simply lets them continue running our bus services into the ground.

What we need is proper regulation – and that means full public ownership.

We don’t need to look very far to see what regulated public transport can achieve – south of the border, Transport for London controls fares, routes, frequency, and minimum standards, and has invested in thousands of green vehicles. The transport body delivers a high quality, integrated, and easy to use network.

The privileges of the London system must not be kept to London alone. We have the right to the same provision of services – and public control over our services – that they do.

We need a properly integrated, easily accessible, cheap and reliable public transport system that serves working people instead of profit-making corporate suits – for our own daily lives, of course, but also to deal properly with the climate crisis.

The 2019 Transport Act of Scotland allows local transport authorities to provide bus services – so the means exist for local authorities to take back control of our bus transport. They just haven’t even bothered trying.

Who’s to blame?

Public transport in Scotland was broken up and sold to the highest bidder under Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1988.

Deindustrialisation – the destruction of Britain’s domestic industries like the mine closures – as well as privatisation and cuts to public services, the selling off of council homes – all of these were deliberate choices that have left us with the chaos we see today.

The consequences of those decisions have been disastrous – not just the destruction of our public transport, but the ongoing social neglect that has led to Scotland suffering the worst drug death rate in Europe.

But we can’t just blame the Tories and be done with it. All of our establishment parties – from the toothless ‘Labour’ opposition to the governing SNP – have played a role in this social calamity.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP continue to preside over a society that does not work for the workers, for the most vulnerable, for the most in need. They would rather guarantee our kids the right to a sex-change than deal with anything that actually matters!

How many more young men and women need to die senseless deaths from poverty and drugs? How many thousands of working families will be evicted before the SNP take responsibility for their neglect?

The SNP’s tug-of-war with the Tories benefits no-one but themselves. Scotland needs a real opposition voice, a voice for the entire diverse Scottish working class, that will hold them to account and force genuine change.

What can be done?

Incompetence, lies and greed for power and money have poisoned politics for so many of us. ‘Our’ politicians – whether in Westminster or Holyrood – so rarely speak for us, and will tell us anything for the sake of our vote. Their promises mean nothing.

It’s no wonder why so few of us vote. Why so few of us know or care about politics. It’s a game for them, not for us.

The Workers Party represent a new and radical voice for working people in Scotland and across Britain. We will be fighting in local communities on the issues that matter so much to us, and have been ignored so long by those in charge.

We need you to get involved – so talk with our representatives on the street or on your doorstep and share your own opinions with us.

Contact us by email if you’d like more information. Attend one of our meetings in the local area. Follow us and support us on social media.

More importantly, though, we want you to join with us, as a full or affiliate member, and consider standing for us, as a working class voice in the next election!

iPublic Transport, Private Profit, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, July 2021

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