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sustainable transport in Britain

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  • Simon Norton
    I agree with Eric and would go further in highlighting aspects of the crisis which I regard as even more depressing. Chief among these is the Government s war
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2011
      I agree with Eric and would go further in highlighting aspects of the crisis
      which I regard as even more depressing.

      Chief among these is the Government's war on bus users. This is taking 3 forms:

      1. The previous government introduced free bus travel in England for the over
      60s, and the present government has (so far) succumbed to pressure to maintain
      this facility (though with a progressive increase in the qualifying age
      introduced by the previous government). However it is cutting back in what it
      gives to local government which is charged with the responsibility of
      administering the scheme. This could have one of several consequences:

      (a) The amount local authorities can reimburse (private) bus operators for
      carrying senior citizens will be reduced. This will make some marginal services
      unprofitable and increase the deficit on services that are already being
      supported by local government.

      (b) Alternatively, local authorities can reduce the number of bus journeys made
      by senior citizens by the simple expedient of cutting services.

      (c) Or local authorities can find the funds to make up the deficit. This is
      unlikely -- see below.

      2. As part of its programme of privatising the whole economy the government is
      cutting its overall support for local authorities. As local authorities have
      very little in the way of independent fundraising powers this means that they
      have no choice but to cut the services they provide -- and bus services are
      likely to be first in line as they have no statutory duty to provide any
      particular level of service at all.

      It is worth noting that since the 2009 local elections almost all local
      transport authorities have been under the control of the same party that is the
      senior party in the government coalition and will need little in the way of
      excuse to leave off from supporting buses -- they have only been doing so
      hitherto because of pressure from the previous government. The political
      situation is very similar to that that prevailed in 1980: to use a metaphor, we
      had 2 fingers removed from one of our hands in the early 1980s, and we now face
      losing another 2 fingers.

      Incidentally the government has referred to a policy of devolving decisions to
      local areas. However there is absolutely no intent to devolve the fundamental
      decision of how much money to spend on local services, or to make it easier for
      them to raise money for this purpose. At present the only mechanism for local
      government to raise money is through a highly regressive tax on property that
      was introduced by the Thatcher government as a fallback when its poll tax proved
      politically untenable.

      3. And then there is the intention to double fuel tax for buses (with no
      comparable cnange for other vehicles). Historically buses have been exempted
      from a significant proportion of fuel tax. The previous government replaced this
      by something called Bus Service Operator Grant, set at about 80% of fuel tax
      rates. The present government has announced that from 2012 this will be reduced
      to 60%.

      As to what people from outside the UK can do about it, I suspect that the answer
      is "not much". The UK's tradition of insularity was by no means halted when we
      joined what was then the European Economic Community (now the EU) or when the
      Channel Tunnel opened. Perhaps one thing that could be done is to get the local
      travel agencies to threaten to cease to promote the UK as a tourist destination
      on the grounds that when tourists reach the UK they will find it far harder to
      get around locally if bus services are decimated.

      Alternatively -- and this could be done within the UK as well -- those local
      authorities that give priority to maintaining their bus services could be
      selectively promoted as tourist destinations.

      In my role as tourist I am fed up with seeing advertisements that either omit
      reference to public transport altogether (as almost all advertisement for
      specific attractions in rural areas do) or just refer to it as a way of reaching
      the area (i.e. the main centres within it) and not of getting around the area
      when one's there.

      Simon Norton
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