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Public transport cuts spell hardship and fumes

As striking maintenance workers on London’s underground draw attention to cuts and safety risks, Budget cuts herald the end of local bus services in the rest of the country.

Already in rural areas people are forced to use their cars whether they like it or not. Now buses could become extinct outside of town and city centres as a result of the 25% cut in the government’s transport budget, according to the Campaign for Better Transport.

They warn that cutting the Government’s Bus Service Operator Grant – a grant which allows local authorities to subsidise routes that are crucial, but unprofitable – removing 94 million miles of existing routes from subsidy, will result in 7% fewer services and a 6.5% fares increase.

Campaign Executive Director Stephen Joseph said:

Bus cuts and fares rises will be below the radar, happening at a local level around the country, but they will have a huge impact on the poorest people and communities, and act as a barrier for people to get access to employment, training and public services.

The Transport and Communities and Local Government departments spend around £2.4bn a year on buses, including up to £1bn on pensioners' bus passes and more than £400m on fuel subsidies.

In London bus and tube ticket prices are set to rise by 7% next January, two per cent higher than the rate of inflation. This follows this year’s 3.9% increase in tube fares and 12.7% rise in bus fares.

Train fares could increase by over 33% across the board over the next five years as a result of the cuts. Train travel in Britain is already the highest in Europe, up to 50% higher on average. And a government review is currently trying to find out why the rail network is costing three times more to maintain than it did when it was in public ownership.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union says the network is dogged by a culture of underfunding, cuts and unacceptable safety risks to staff and passengers. RMT members working on the maintenance and upgrading of the London underground are striking today against cuts in staffing and safety, though the bankrupt company that walked away from the upgrade contract had already had £312m of public money.

Bus and train companies continue to make huge profits in spite of the recession.

Transport is the source of 24% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. 89% of that comes from cars, trucks and vans. Personal car travel is the biggest culprit, at 58% of the total. Buses contribute just 2% and rail 3%.

Millions of pounds are being invested in developing electric cars, and this research benefits from the government’s various tax breaks for ‘entrepreneurs’. But there is no evidence that electric cars will have more than a marginal impact on CO2 emissions. As Professor Roger Kemp, who chaired a review by the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

Swapping gas guzzlers for electric vehicles will not solve our carbon emissions problem on its own. When most electricity in Britain is still generated by burning gas and coal, the difference between an electric car and a small, low-emission petrol or diesel car is negligible.

The best, fairest and cheapest way to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions would be to get more people and goods off the roads and on to buses and trains. But that would be to defy the logic of profit. As far as the government is concerned, this is definitely not ‘the age of the train’ – or the bus.

One of the key roles of People’s Assemblies will be to challenge every bus route closure and fare increase, demanding that the books of the privatised transport companies are opened to scrutiny. We need a community-owned and controlled transport system, based on a well-financed integrated transport strategy.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
24 June 2010

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