Thu 22 October 2020

The struggles over Manchester’s expensive and inaccessible bus services show the public can have an impact.

When Andy Burnham announced his plan to bring bus services in Greater Manchester (a recently devolved authority of nearly 3 million people and an economy bigger than Wales) back into public control, the bus companies immediately threatened to sue him, and the city.

Getting Andy Burnham to commit to such a troublesome act was in itself a campaign that has been fought for over a year, and may pave the way for other even more newly devolved authorities to follow suit.

We spoke to Pascale Robinson, an organiser from Better Buses Greater Manchester, about how, why and what’s next for the campaign.

“8 million miles have been cut from the bus network in Greater Manchester yet Stagecoach’s profits increased by 14% last year to £17.6 million, and UK bus companies hand out £149M a year to their shareholders.”

‘Over a ten year period (up to 2013), there was a leakage of £2.8 billion, in the form of dividend payments to bus shareholders, out of investing in the public transport network and into shareholders pockets.’

‘What this means in reality is irregular, overpriced bus services for those who do get them, and huge numbers of routes getting cut for lack of profitability, with no consideration for public need’.

This is unlike London where the bus companies are under public control – though not publicly owned – and have to provide cheaper fares and joined up services which allow you to get on one companies to the next with just one pass. This is because the transport authority is in control and requires bus companies to do so.

‘You can make several joined up trips for just £1.50 in London, yet a shorter trip on just one service in Greater Manchester could cost as much as £4.80 and then if you have to change buses you’ll have to pay again.’

This has a devastating effect on so many areas of people’s lives, just one example is the fact that 10% of hospital outpatient appointments are missed because of public transport.

With public transport being equally poorly provided across most of the UK’s cities – where it is all privately run with similar costs and consequences – and arguably considerably worse in rural areas, how can people in other places learn from the Better Buses GMCR campaign?

“We have been working with We Own It (who set up and back the campaign), who produced an excellent report on public ownership across the board, and have done a lot of the research for the campaign.  

We made alliances with groups across the city, from university researchers to anti poverty campaigners, community unions like Acorn and environmental campaigners like Friends Of The Earth’

‘We ran a big public meeting to begin the campaign and used Barnstorming to get people to sign up to meet their councillors across the region. To me this would be quite intimidating, especially if you didn’t know that much about the campaign before the meeting, but it was amazing, people went out from every authority and did it’.

‘We’ve done videos, stunts, met with councillors ourselves and have run a petition. It has all been about building up to a public consultation which will be run sometime soon at which we get to get the politicians on our side’.

‘The campaign hasn’t been won yet, so what we want is to get loads and loads of people to respond in the public consultation when it happens and to get as many people to events as possible during that time.’  

‘Of course public consultations are really, really boring, so if anyone has ideas on how to make that more exciting get in touch!’

Most of this interview was taken from the 0161 podcast, a podcast about politics, sports and culture in Greater Manchester – if you want to hear the full interview (or other episodes) you can find it on Itune, Spotify, or SoundCloud here

(1hr07mins into the podcast is the section on what the tactics have been)