The Labour Party’s campaign to reinstate evening bus services in West Somerset has gained more support. Watchet Town Council and Carhampton Parish Council are the latest to protest about the scrapping by First of services on the 28 route. The last bus now leaves Minehead at 6.40 p.m.
Watchet Town Council has written to First saying the cuts will ”increase the isolation of communities such as Watchet. These changes discriminate against those who rely on public transport.”
What’s happening here is part of a larger picture. Labour’s County Council candidate in Watchet and Stogumber, Alan Bond, had a long career as a bus driver – and has this analysis:
‘Profits and dividends’
“We in Somerset are not alone in seeing bus services slashed. All across the country similar scenarios are unfolding as bus operators defend their profits. Appealing to their better nature is just not going to work – they couldn’t care less about passengers, only about profits and dividends.
“Withdrawal of subsidies is the reason put forward as to why services are being withdrawn and this despicable government is responsible for that, aided and abetted by Tory councillors. But the fact is that since the bus industry was privatised and de-regulated in 1986, public subsidies for bus services have increased by leaps and bounds in the same way as those for train operating companies. The whole exercise was a way of putting public money into private pockets.
Cutting subsidy to the bone
“Part of the subsidy was to pay for the senior citizen free pass, which was thoughtfully provided by a Labour government. We know that this government would like to abolish this facility but dare not do so for fear of the consequences, so they are deliberately cutting the subsidy to the bone which has the effect of making the bus pass less useful to many pensioners and particularly to those living in rural areas.
“These are only the parts of the bus industry that the general public sees and recognises. What they don’t see is the increase in working hours and reductions in wages that have taken place since 1986 as the privateers got cracking on maximising their profits. Many bus workers receive only the national minimum wage. One of the major reasons for privatisation was to fragment the industry and thus make it difficult for trade unions to effectively oppose attacks on living standards.
Strong case for re-nationalisation
“As with the railways, there is a strong case for re-nationalisation or, at the very least, a proper system of regulation of bus operators so that they start providing a public service. The provisions of the Road Traffic Act were a sensible regulatory system which kept bus services operating for the benefit of the public rather than for the benefit of the fat cats. In those days operators worked on the principle of ‘cross-subsidisation’, where profits from the more lucrative routes were used to subsidise those routes which were less remunerative or lost money. These provisions need to be re-instated.
“Exploitation should no longer be an option for bosses and the only way to deal with it is to take the ultimate sanction against rogue employers by confiscating their companies and handing them over to their workforces to run as co-operatives. Until we have a fair and equitable distribution of the fruits of the labour of the real wealth creators, nothing will change and we will finish up as a third world nation.”