Steve Rotheram: ‘Mayors are paving the way now for Labour’s bold bus plans’

Steve Rotheram
Steve Rotheram and Louise Haigh.

Pick up any paper or turn on the news on any given day and you’re bound to be hit with a story about transport. Take your pick: the repeated broken promises on HS2, government inaction to avert rail strikes, or the Prime Minister’s predilection for helicopter rides to avoid public contact.

But one mode you’re not likely to hear about too much is buses – despite the overwhelming majority of public transport users being bus passengers.

Buses are the backbone of our public transport system but they just aren’t sexy enough to command the attention of the nation’s press (with a few notable exceptions!). So it’s welcome to see Labour’s new plans to help communities take back control of bus networks making national newspaper frontpages today.

Communities face fragmented, under-funded bus networks

For millions of people up and down the country, they are so much more than just a vehicle that takes them from A to B. They are a facilitator of social mobility, connecting people not only with each other – but with a whole world of opportunity.

But away from the spotlight, communities outside of London have been forced to contend with fragmented, deregulated, and underfunded networks for nearly four decades, designed around the whims of distant shareholders rather than the people who rely on local services every single day.

The broken bus market is letting passengers down while services spiral further into decline. Since the Tories took power in 2010, more than 5,000 bus services have been lost in England leaving entire communities behind.

No other major economy runs bus services in such a fragmented and disjointed manner.

If you were looking to design a system to turn people away from public transport, even the most pernicious imagination would struggle to visualise something more effective than this.

The long and winding road to taking back control

Franchising is not a journey I am taking alone. Using the powers devolution has given us, Labour leaders across the country are now following our lead and working to put local transport back where it belongs – under public control.

In October last year, hot on the heels of Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region made history as only the second area in the country to take back control of our buses, signalling the biggest shake up to our network in nearly 40 years. West Yorkshire followed last month.

Franchising will be a game changer across the country, putting power back in the hands of local people to decide routes, fares and timetables. It’s the very essence of devolution.

However, reaching this point did not come without its own challenges – largely because of the many bureaucratic and financial hoops we were forced to jump through.

The process was agonisingly slow and far more complicated than it needed to be.

Labour’s plans mean real levelling up nationwide


The Better Buses Bill is Labour’s route to turbocharging bus franchising by giving local leaders across the country the same opportunity to franchise their buses without the onerous and costly legislative minefields contained in the Bus Services Act 2017.

It shows, once again, that Labour is the only party in touch with ordinary people. This is a radical, new vision for buses – and has learned from the lessons of areas like ours to simplify the process for other places to follow suit.

It’s real levelling up – like our party has been doing for more than a hundred years.

This is why we get into politics; why we choose the Labour Party. Not to tinker round the edges but to deliver radical transformations that improve the lives of ordinary people.

I’m proud to be building the fairer, better bus network that the 1.6 million people who call my region home deserve – and it’s about time that other areas were given the chance to jump on board too!

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