The Labour Party in Somerset has welcomed a call by an influential think tank for new policies to improve failing bus services. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says deregulation has failed – and regional authorities should be created to run public transport.
The IPPR report spells out something people in Somerset know all about. First Group, which runs many services in the county, has slashed services so that towns such as Minehead and Watchet are cut off in the evening for people who don’t have cars.
The report says:
• Operators are making excessive profits
• Fares have risen and patronage has fallen
• Unprofitable services have ceased to operate
The IPPR contrasts the failure of bus services in places such as Somerset with a boom in bus travel in London, where services are regulated by Transport for London (TfL). The number of people using buses has gone up by 72 per cent, while fares have been kept affordable. It says TfL should be used as a model for the rest of the country, with regional transport authorities able to regulate and improve services.
West Somerset has been badly hit by the failure of deregulation and the loss of county council subsidies. Last year, evening buses which many people relied on were scrapped by First Group. The last bus out of Minehead now leaves at 6.40 p.m.
Alan Bond is a campaigner for public transport and was Labour’s candidate for Watchet and Stogursey in the county council election. He said:
“Having been in the bus industry for about fifty years, I have seen at first hand the effect that de-regulation and privatisation have had on both bus passengers and staff. Competition is not, and never was the answer to providing public services, including public transport.
“From 1930 bus services were properly regulated and operators were able to use profits from well patronised routes to subsidise services which were lightly used and the Thatcher government removed that option and allowed bus operators to have a free hand.
“The failure of the policy is there for all to see in the virtual free for all we have today. As the man said, if you were setting out to sort out public transport, you wouldn’t start from here.”