Labour has unveiled a new plan to set up a £1.3bn ‘bus transformation fund’ that will reverse Tory cuts to 3,000 bus routes and reinstate services across the country.
The fresh policy, which has the support of Unite and RMT unions, is designed particularly to help people from communities that have been worst affected by austerity under Conservative-led governments since 2010.
It is these areas, many of which voted in favour of Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum, that Labour has identified as targets in the upcoming local elections. On May 2nd, the party will be contesting council seats only in England, including many non-metropolitan districts.
As well as promoting the campaign message that ‘austerity isn’t over’, the new transport policy taps into other areas of interest for Labour – from supporting local economies, such as in Preston, to tackling air pollution and climate change, which has been put firmly on the agenda following the campaigning activities of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion.
The new fund contributes to Labour’s broader focus on bus services, which Jeremy Corbyn has previously raised at PMQs. The party has already announced plans to bring local services into public ownership and offer free bus travel to under 25s, while Richard Leonard has said he would build a free bus network to serve the whole of Scotland.
Ahead of the announcement in Nottingham, Corbyn said: “Bus services have been devastated by nine years of austerity. Thousands of routes have been axed, fares have soared and passenger numbers are in freefall.
“Local services are a lifeline for many, particularly the elderly and those in rural areas. Cuts have had disastrous consequences for our towns and city centres and for air pollution and the environment.
“Bus networks are essential for towns and cities and for tackling rural poverty and isolation, which is why Labour is committed to creating thriving bus networks under public ownership.”
Andy McDonald will join the Labour leader in visiting Nottingham on Thursday to launch the policy. The Labour-run council there runs its own bus services, including eco buses.
Labour’s transport spokesman commented: “The Tories have neglected buses, along with the people and communities who rely on them.
“Slashing bus funding damages our communities by cutting people off from work and leisure and worsening congestion and air pollution.
“Labour is announcing an end to austerity for buses and the funding needed to transform local services to allow our towns and cities to thrive.”
The policy will be funded with revenue from vehicle excise duty (VED), which is set to become hypothecated to a ‘roads fund’. Labour says it is prepared to use VED revenue instead for a ‘sustainable transport fund’.