Buses are the lifeblood of communities. We will give them the focus they deserve

Louise Haigh
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Whilst rail dominates the world of transport – in budget, column inches and industrial strife – the quiet crisis that millions are dealing with is the near-total collapse of our local bus services. Millions of people use the bus at least once a week, twice as many as those who catch trains, with almost three billion bus journeys made in 2022. Buses are the lifeblood of local communities – indispensable for connecting people to jobs, opportunities, education, public services and friends and family. And they disproportionately serve the more deprived in our society; half of the poorest fifth of families do not own a car.

In the teeth of a cost-of-living and climate crisis, any sensible government would be doing everything within its power to encourage people onto public transport and ensure buses are affordable, accessible and reliable. Indeed, the Conservatives promised they would “not only stop the decline” in bus services but “reverse it”.

Instead, they’ve done the opposite. Since 2012, thousands of services have been lost – with more than 1,000 scrapped in the last year alone. Each one of these represents more people cut off from their loved ones, from the ability to get a better job or further their education. Lost connections like these hold back our economic growth, worsen our community life and deepen our productivity problem.

That’s why the Labour Party are putting buses at the heart of our transport plan. Decades of failed deregulation have left communities with little say over the essential services they rely on. It has handed operators enormous power to raise fares and slash routes and, in many cases, cut communities off altogether. We are one of the only countries in the developed world that gives operators such power.

And the Conservatives’ answer to the failing status quo has been more of the same. They are content to stand in the way of much-needed bus reform and instead simply manage decline. They use short-term sticking plasters to paper over the cracks at the same time services are in freefall.

The next Labour government will end this broken system. As I announced at conference, one of our first acts will be to extend power and public control of local bus services to every area of England that wants it, and we’ll do this through the Take Back Control Act. We’ll also make it simpler for communities to take back control: under the Conservatives’ failing system, it can take years for local authorities (the few that have been permitted to do so) to take control over the services they depend on, leaving them mired in costly legal challenges. We’ll remove the unnecessary hurdles that allow operators to stand in the way of change so that public money can be spent where it matters – on delivering a better public transport network for all.

For years, communities have demanded we fix our broken buses. Labour will do it. We are already seeing the fantastic work done by Labour mayors up and down the UK when they have been given the power to make decisions in their communities, for their communities. Many have lowered fares and have plans to deliver London-style networks in their communities.

We want every part of England to have that power and for it not to take years to get there. And, as I announced at conference, we’ll go further still by lifting the ban on municipal bus ownership, allowing local leaders and communities to take control for themselves, building on the success of Nottingham, which has one of the most used bus networks in the country.

A future Labour government will finally give buses the priority they deserve, which reflects their importance to communities. We will put the interests of passengers and the community first, fix our broken bus networks and provide people with the affordable, accessible and reliable public transport they deserve.

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