Bus in the north east. Photo: Paul Mattsson
Bus in the north east. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Chris Newby, Socialist Party national committee

The high cost of fares, infrequent buses and trains, unreliable services, a lack of open ticket offices – all these problems and more make journeys something to be dreaded, rather than a comfortable, affordable, safe and reliable way to travel.

The private companies that run the buses and trains continue to make big profits, whilst still getting billions in public handouts. Expensive infrastructure projects, with little benefit for the local communities they run through, are introduced without any genuine consultation. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Councils across Britain have different levels of responsibility for transport in the areas they cover. Some subsidise routes and travel passes. Others run the whole service, as the Greater London Authority does.

Public services, including local authorities, have faced massive cuts to their budgets from successive Tory governments. And a new Starmer-led Labour government is set to continue these cuts.

The Local Government Association says that to maintain subsidies for under-16s, over-60s, and disabled people, councils will have to cut bus routes. Instead of mobilising the local community, including the trade unions, to demand extra funding from central government, Labour councils are cutting services.

Councils should immediately demand the extra funding necessary, to not only maintain services, but to improve and also reduce fares. And private operators should cover the extra costs.

Why should public money continue to be used to subsidise these profit-hungry companies running our buses and trains? No more handouts.

For example, instead of London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan meekly accepting government cuts to the transport budget, and cutting bus routes, he should be running a mass campaign, alongside unions and transport users. Funding should be used to pay the workforce a decent wage, reduce fares, and reinstate previously cut routes.

Public campaigning can work. Look at the success of the campaign involving the unions RMT, Aslef, and the wider public, in fighting the closure of ticket offices. A campaign led by bus workers and the local communities in 2022 led to a partial climbdown in cuts to funding of bus routes in London.

We campaign for the renationalisation of all our public services, including rail and bus companies, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need with nothing for the fat cat operators.

These services, like all others, will constantly face attack under capitalism, as they seek to maintain their profits, at the expense of what’s provided. A socialist society would use the enormous wealth that exists to provide a free public transport system – where workers, trade unions, communities, have democratic control over how it’s run.

This would see guards returned to trains, conductors on buses, and fully staffed stations the whole time they are open, to ensure the safety of all transport users and workers. This would be a genuinely integrated transport system, that links together all the different branches of public transport.

Such a system would radically cut pollution from congestion, with the added health benefits for the whole community, and the environment.