Barnsley East MP Michael Dugher’s column: Passengers need to be given more power

Michael Dugher MP
Michael Dugher MP

Last week I was talking to fellow South Yorkshire MP Rosie Winterton.

She has been campaigning in Doncaster on behalf of the residents of Silver Jubilee Court, Wheatley Hills, who were left completely isolated after a major bus service into Doncaster town centre has been slashed.

busram'Protesters on the Westminster Estate, Fulwood, who petitioned the council over loss of the 120 bus service.

busram'Protesters on the Westminster Estate, Fulwood, who petitioned the council over loss of the 120 bus service.

In my patch in Barnsley, the number 9 bus, which used to go along Farm Road and West Street, has similarly been cut.

And did you know that across Yorkshire, there were over a million fewer miles of local bus services last year compared to 2010?

The national picture is just as worrying. Recent figures from the Campaign for Better Transport revealed that more than 2,000 bus routes have been cut in England since 2010 and that things are getting progressively worse. At the same time, bus fares are rocketing, increasing by 25 per cent since 2010 – that’s a rise that is five times the average growth in wages.

It’s clear that the bus operators have been cutting crucial routes that people rely on at the same time as hiking up fares to maximise their own profits. The problem is that all the power currently rests with the big bus companies, not with passengers and local communities. This means that if a local council feels a particular bus route is of vital importance for people in the area – like a route that stops at the local hospital – they are forced into the position to find the money to subsidise the route from taxpayers.

These are tough times for local councils because of all the cuts from central government. Yet local bus firms, in focusing on the profitable routes, don’t think it’s their job to dip into their profits to ensure other vital local routes are maintained.

Regions like South Yorkshire should be able to negotiate a better, more comprehensive contract with bus companies that will ensure operators not only get to run the most profitable routes in the area, but also have to run routes that are important for the local communities as part of the overall deal.

Up the road in Tyne and Wear, the local transport authority, NEXUS, are trying to get a better contract for local people in the area. But what has been the response from the local operator Stagecoach? The company are threatening to pull out all their buses out of the area.

That’s why Labour has said we will legislate. Having the power to set routes and fares is how it works in London and it works very well. And if it’s good enough for London, it should be good enough for areas like the North East or here in South Yorkshire. Like the rip-off energy market, the bus market is broken and is not working in the best interests of the public. Labour changes for passenger power can’t happen quickly enough.