Declining Bus Services and Impact on Pensioners

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2023 National Retired Members Conference
9 June 2023

This conference deplores the continuing decline in local bus services throughout the UK. Not only have services been substantially cut but those services that have been retained are often unreliable, unpredictable and infrequent.

Buses are an essential part of the local, regional and national economies, playing a vital role in the transport system, especially for pensioners who rely on journeys by bus for shopping, going to the library, having access to the bank and post office, seeing the doctor, dentist or pharmacist, meeting friends and socialising. Reduced bus services have led to greater loneliness, isolation and a deterioration in mental and physical health of pensioners unable to access the vital services they need. This doesn’t just affect pensioners, but also many essential staff in the NHS and Care Sectors who are unable to get to work because of bus service cuts.

The Tory Government made false promises to improve transport connectivity, which has not happened. The Tories promised to “level up across the country” with “beautiful, British-built buses that are cleaner, greener, quieter, safer and more frequent”. The Tories ‘Bus Back Better’ strategy for England hasn’t worked. The Campaign for Better Transport has concluded that 23 per cent of bus services in England, amounting to 2,800 services, have in fact been cut since its launch in 2021.

The fault began with the Thatcher Government’s Transport Act 1985 which deregulated local bus services throughout Great Britain outside of London. Margaret Thatcher predicted that privatising bus transport would result in lower fares, new services, and more passengers, while removing any potential future liability on the taxpayer.

Deregulation has not improved services but made travel by bus even more difficult and at greater cost to the economy and the environment by increasing journeys by car and taxi. Fares have risen by more than any measure of inflation, services are fewer, and many bus companies are owned by distant conglomerates.

Retired members living in rural areas and small villages in the countryside were first to be hardest hit by reduced bus services, yet today even in towns and cities there have been significant cuts to routes. Due in part to insufficient trained drivers to maintain timetables because of low wages, long hours and poor working conditions. Lack of affordable accommodation in towns and bigger cities has caused drivers to live further away from depots, leading to longer working days, more health problems and less value from their earnings. This has led to an exodus of drivers to substantially better paid work driving lorries and other HGV transport. Furthermore, many bus operators call on local government subsidies to make any profit. Yet Government austerity policies introduced in 2010 have cut local government funding which started the massive decline in bus services. For 2023, the biggest bus support cuts have been from County authorities in Kent and Hertfordshire.

Conference notes with concern that in an ageing population the bus transport system is remains broken and cannot meet the needs of our retired members.

Conference also notes that in the Republic of Ireland, our neighbours have proposed a programme of bus improvements to deliver to at least 70% of the population a minimum service of three bus round trips daily.

It therefore calls on the National Retired Members Committee to liaise with the National Executive Council, Labour Link, the National Pensioners Convention, Scottish Pensioners Forum, Age UK, the Trades Union Congress, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and other relevant organisations to:

1)Campaign for a substantial increase in central government funding to local authorities to reverse the decline in bus services and enable bus operators to pay higher wages, improve working conditions and reduce fares.

2)Campaign to bring bus services back into municipal ownership.

3)Demand a bus service that meets the needs of pensioners and provides a cleaner environment. Encouraging older people to use buses.

4)Call upon UNISON branches and regions to support the national campaign It further urges them to mount local campaigns to achieve greater awareness of the impact of declining bus services on their own community.

5)Campaign for better bus services and encourage retired members in branches and regions to take part in campaigns to get pensioners back using bus services.