Here’s yet another consequence of permanent austerity – severe cuts to local authority subsidised bus services that will leave many people effectively stranded and isolated: Half of the country’s bus routes could be scrapped due to funding crisis.
In Essex, 85% 0f the bus routes are commercially operated which means that the buses run when enough of a load can be guaranteed to turn a profit for the operator. For example, the 100 which runs from Chelmsford all the way down to Lakeside and takes in Basildon on the way gets enough in the way of passengers to make it a commercially viable proposition for First Bus. But, the frequency of the service drops right off during the evenings and on Sundays. However, services such as the 11 and 374 which serve villages such as West Tilbury, East Tilbury, Horndon-on-the-Hill and Fobbing, while they attract passengers, they don’t do so in the numbers that would make them commercially viable so they’re currently subsidised by the local authority.
It’s these and other subsidised services that are under threat as austerity continues to bite: Sunday bus routes face cuts. Essex County Council are currently undertaking a ‘consultation’ exercise on the future of the bus services they currently subsidise: Local Bus consultation 2019 (Essex County Council). Now, generally, we’re pretty cynical about these exercises but, a healthy number of responses to the ‘consultation’ is one way of putting on the pressure needed to highlight the importance of these subsidised services.
With subsidised bus services under threat, we have a situation where getting on for one in five bus services across Essex could end up disappearing in order to appease the austerity obsessed bean counters in Whitehall. Slashing or eliminating services that serve rural villages and the peripheral estates has human consequences. Not everyone can afford to run a car or is able to drive. The old, the young, the vulnerable and those who can’t afford to run a car face even more restrictions on their lives as off peak bus services start to disappear. That will increase social isolation and the mental health problems that are associated with it as well as further restricting opportunities to access education and employment opportunities.
Along with the library cuts we were protesting against yesterday in Chelmsford – Out on the streets for our libraries – the cuts to bus services are yet another assault on the infrastructure that holds our communities together. Held together for all of us, not just for those with the money and means to support a mobile but atomised lifestyle that doesn’t appear to depend on any sense of community. Another grim consequence of permanent austerity will be the further fragmentation of our communities as the divide between the haves and the growing number of the have nots widens.
As seen with the library protest yesterday, people aren’t prepared to take any more austerity without standing up and fighting back. Let’s hope we can start mobilising the numbers needed to save our bus services before it’s too late.