Tuesday 12 April 2022

Why We Need Free Bus Travel

by Joe Fathallah, Socialist Party member and TUSC candidate for Grangetown

One of the hardest-hitting aspects of the cost-of-living crisis has been the increase in the price of fuel, making running a car an unaffordable luxury for many. In this context, a free, reliable, and effective public transport system is a necessity we must fight for. In addition, public transport is essential in the battle against climate catastrophe, with private transport one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. 

Bus travel in Cardiff is owned and controlled by Cardiff Bus, an ‘arms-length’ company wholly owned by Cardiff Council, but with its own board of directors separate from any elected body. This means that the company is not subject to control of even the council, let alone the communities whose facilities it operates. The current Managing Director of Cardiff Bus, Paul Dyer, was formerly the CEO at DHL Supply Chain, and the whole operation effectively operates in the same way as a private company. 

The impacts of this lack of accountability have been clear. Since 2015, the capital city of Wales has been without a central bus station, when the facility was closed to make way for commercial development in the city centre. This has made it much harder to change buses, especially for disabled passengers and those unfamiliar with the layout of the city. Seven years later, building work on what is meant to be the new bus station is still ongoing. In 2015, plans to cut routes and push through unfavourable changes to working conditions were met by strike action by the bus drivers organised in Unite the Union. Multiple important routes have fallen victim to cuts over the last decade.  

In 2015, the Welsh government announced the launch of the South Wales Metro, which is supposed to be a plan to create an integrated public transport system. So far, it has delivered little more than the re-branding of existing services. In 2020, Transport for Wales took over the rail operations from former privatised operator Keolis-Amey. The covid-19 pandemic caused a crash in ticket sales, so Keolis-Amey simply walked away from their contract, despite having received £267 million of public subsidies in the previous two years! The losses were nationalised, and the Welsh government picked up the slack. 

To begin to tackle the cost of transport, the environmental crisis, and to make sure we can all get to where we need to be, we need so much more than this. We need a fully nationalised, integrated, socialist public transport system, under the democratic control of passengers, transport workers, and elected representatives. This would mean that fares could be abolished, by getting our hands on the profits stashed up by former private operators. It would also mean re-opening Cardiff central bus station, and democratically planning a route map to meet the requirements of the travelling public. 

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates in this election will fight for the establishment of such a system, putting passengers ahead of city-centre property developers, and creating public transport fit to meet the needs of working-class people in Cardiff.

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