We need more funding to support our bus services in the West of England

Dan Norris
© Hadrian/Shutterstock.com

Who remembers when Boris Johnson bizarrely told the nation how he enjoyed painting model buses? He gushed about all the happy passengers aboard. I was reflecting the other night that he never mentioned painting in any bus drivers – and now those key worker heroes seem to have slipped his mind again.

In my area, cuts and cancellations to local services have become too common. Communities across the West of England – from Bristol to Thornbury, from Keynsham to Emersons Green – have all been affected. Bus users in Bath are the latest victims where one of the local bus companies has just announced an emergency timetable due to driver shortages.

Of course, this should not come as a surprise to the government, as the industry has been warning about a lack of drivers for many a year. The warnings were ignored as this increasingly incompetent and inept government failed to plan ahead.

Now we have a toxic mix. Covid, despite what the government might like you to think, has not gone away. Bus drivers have always been on the frontline and unsurprisingly sickness levels have increased. The government got Brexit done but failed to think about how Brexit might work. There have also been DVLA delays.

Then, in a sudden panic about empty supermarket shelves due to the HGV driver shortage, the government wrote to everyone with a licence, including a lot of bus drivers. Surprise, surprise, some of them took up the offer! This government really enjoys shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic.

It would also be useful to have the resources to pay the drivers. It was good that the government gave extra funding support for buses during the pandemic. But the crude calculations it used assumed passenger numbers would recover more quickly than they in fact did. And so at the beginning of September, they suddenly slashed two-thirds of the support money for our local bus services.

I’ve been calling on ministers for a more measured approach, with more funding to support our bus services that reflects a gradual rise in passenger confidence and numbers. MPs of all parties here in the West of England support my call for this funding rethink.

I believe bus companies are doing their best, as are their fantastic drivers – but they are being hampered again and again. It is surely telling that the Tory flagship bus policy announced earlier this year failed to even mention drivers.

Wooden box buses may help Boris Johnson to relax. But in the real world, bus passengers are doing anything but relaxing. They need the buses to turn up – it really is that simple. They need to get to work, study, hospital, shopping, leisure activities. Instead they’re stressed about delays or cancellations, and worried about missing work or medical appointments.

How could the Prime Minister not see this coming? Maybe he forgot someone needs to be in the driving seat. He certainly isn’t.

Everything Labour.
Every weekday morning.

By clicking ‘subscribe’ you confirm you have read and agree to our privacy policy

More from LabourList