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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 January 2007

Bus fares rise again

WE WANT OUR BUSES BACK!

We Want Our Buses Back (WWOBB) campaigners will be on the march again in Sheffield, on Saturday 6 January, protesting against bus fare rises. The main South Yorkshire operator, First, are increasing fares by as much as 14% on the Day Saver - after four rounds of fare rises already in 2004-05.

Alistair Tice Sheffield

It's not just in Sheffield. Since Thatcher's de-regulation of the bus industry in 1987, fares have gone up in real terms by around 50% nationally and by nearly 100% in the metropolitan areas!

This latest increase was announced in December, the same month that the government published its proposals for bus services - ironically entitled "Putting Passengers First".

The only policy that New Labour puts first is: "This has nothing to do with nationalisation. The bus industry will remain privately owned." (Page 34 of the proposal document).

This reassurance to the 'Big Five' bus companies (First, Stagecoach, Arriva, National Express and Go-Ahead) that monopolise 80% of services, comes after 33 pages of statistics which add up to a damning indictment of deregulation and privatisation.

Only 4% of services are subject to direct competition! Bus patronage fell by 18% in the decade after deregulation and continues to decline in the majority of England (outside London). In the last ten years there has been a 9% cut in commercially run services. There is a vicious circle of fare rises, cuts in services, falling passenger numbers and rising costs (ie falling profits) leading to more fare rises and cuts in services.

There will be a short-term increase in bus usage in the next few years due to the introduction of free fares for the elderly and disabled but the "inexorable decline" is expected to continue after 2010-11.

This is despite public subsidies accounting for half the bus industry's annual turnover! By next year, public subsidies, from central and local government, will have increased by 150% under New Labour - from 1 billion to 2.5 billion. This is through the 80% rebate on bus operators' fuel duty, supported services, concessionary fares and capital spending on infrastructure such as interchanges, shelters and bus corridors.

Deregulation has been a bonanza for the private sector. The Big Five have carved up the industry, slashed jobs and wages and massively increased their profits. FirstBus UK made 110 million profit last year, returning 23 million straight back to the fat-cat shareholders and promising a 10% annual increase in dividends. And this is being funded by us - through our bus fares and taxes.

The government is determined that this rip-off will continue. They are only proposing to tinker with their own Transport Act 2000 by supposedly making it easier for Passenger Transport Authorities to apply for 'Quality Contracts' (a form of regulation similar to London). But New Labour still insists that "the legitimate interests of the bus operators" (ie profits) must be safeguarded, even suggesting they help draw up the contract specifications before bidding for them!

Clearly there is no solution to the problems of public transport, congestion and pollution on the basis of deregulation and 'Profit First' companies. Rather than subsidising the Big Five's profits, we must campaign for the regulation of bus services under democratic local control and renationalisation of all public transport (buses, trains and trams) so that it can be integrated and planned to really put passengers first.

March and Rally:

Saturday 6 January

Assemble 11am at City Hall, Sheffield
(called by WWOBB)

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In The Socialist 4 January 2007:

Super-rich pocket 18 billion


Transport deregulation rip-off

We want our busses back!


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Build for a March demo

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