“With bus services being reduced more passengers will inevitably opt to make journeys by car, which is bad for the environment, increasing pollution and congestion and adding to climate change.”
By John Murphy, Unite the Union
London is currently facing the biggest bus cuts in decades. Transport for London (TfL) is consulting on plans to cut 16 bus routes, while dozens of others will be re-routed or shortened.
If the plans are enacted then four per cent of London’s bus capacity will be cut, with the loss of 800 driving roles.
Four per cent does not seem like a huge amount but for passengers in the capital the changes will be brutal.
Journeys will become longer. A trip that can currently be made by catching a single bus will instead have to be made by catching two or three buses. This will result in far longer waits at bus stops and if the trip takes longer than an hour a much more expensive journey.
Cutting buses services will result in an increase in overcrowded buses resulting in those required to use them being forced to endure a miserable journey. Equally, with bus services being reduced more passengers will inevitably opt to make journeys by car, which is bad for the environment, increasing pollution and congestion and adding to climate change.
The first question people usually ask is why on earth are TfL planning on making such regressive cuts? The answer is that they are being forced to by the government.
Prior to the pandemic, London was unique among major capital cities with its public transport system being self-funding.
The collapse in revenue as a result of Covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns has resulted in Sadiq Khan being forced to seek several bailouts from the government. The government in the form of the Department for Transport has been willing to provide some funding but has attached huge strings to these payments.
One of these strings is a demand for a reduction in bus services in London on the grounds that ridership has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. This will undoubtedly be self-fulfilling as a cut in bus services will do entirely the opposite of encouraging passengers back onto buses. With the Covid-19 virus not eradicated and with cases rising it is far too early to make any long-term decisions about London’s bus routes, especially as tourist numbers have certainly not yet recovered.
What is beyond doubt is that Londoners should not be being forced to pay for the pandemic.
The proposed cuts in service levels and routes will most adversely affect the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Bus services are by far the cheapest method of public transport in London. If you are working in a minimum wage role such as a cleaner or in hospitality, being forced to use tubes or the trains takes a huge chunk out of what are already meagre wages. Equally buses in London run 24 hours a day, which you can’t say about other forms of public transport, making them a vital lifeline for workers who work unsocial hours – for example workers in the NHS.
It is of course not just workers who will suffer but pensioners and schoolchildren who rely on buses to attend school or to get to the shops and will also find their journey’s much more difficult.
At the peak of the first Covid-19 wave, London bus drivers paid a terrible toil for their dedication in keeping London functioning, far too many of them died. In return for that commitment the planned cuts in bus services serves as a huge kick in the teeth.
Even if workers don’t lose their jobs, opportunities for overtime are set to disappear. Bus drivers like everyone else are suffering in the cost of living crisis, they certainly don’t earn a fortune and any loss of take home pay is likely to be the difference between keeping their heads above water or going under.
The key question is what can be done. The first thing is for everyone to complete TfL’s consultation which is very short and more like a survey, it can be found here.
Unhelpfully TfL has opted for the shortest possible consultation period of just six weeks and this ends on Tuesday 12 July. So time is short.
Secondly contact your MP, council leader and you cabinet member for transport/highways and make sure that they have all publicly opposed TfL’s plans.
Together we can force TfL to think again and force them stand up to the government and refuse to do their dirty work for them.
- John Murphy is the Lead London bus officer for Unite.
- Have your say in TFL’s consultation before July 12th and voice your opposition to the proposed London bus cuts here.