Former UN Rapporteur Philip Alston has hit out at England’s Bus Sector and the extreme form of privatisation and deregulation, raising serious human rights concerns.

The report Public Transport, Private Profit: The Human Cost of Privatising Buses in the United Kingdom found that many people have lost jobs and benefits, faced barriers to healthcare, been forced to give up on education, sacrificed food and utilities, and been cut off from friends and family because of a costly, fragmented, and inadequate privatised bus service that has failed them.

“Over the past 35 years, deregulation has provided a master class in how not to run an essential public service, leaving residents at the mercy of private actors who have total discretion over how to run a bus route, or whether to run one at all,” said Philip Alston, who authored the report with Bassam Khawaja and Rebecca Riddell.
The UK government imposed an extreme form of privatisation and deregulation on the bus sector in England outside of London, Scotland, and Wales in 1985, arguing a year earlier that competition would deliver “a better service to the passenger at less cost.” More than three decades later, the promised benefits have not materialised and the current service is grossly inadequate.

Average fares have skyrocketed, rising 403 percent in England since 1987, while ridership has plummeted, falling an estimated 38 percent in England outside of London between 1982 and 2016/17.

Private companies understandably prioritise profits rather than the public good, extracting money from the system while cutting unprofitable but necessary routes,” said Khawaja. “The public has effectively become an insurer of operator profits, propping up private services with considerable subsidies.” Despite privatisation, the government provides billions of pounds in funding for bus services annually, accounting for more than 40 percent of funding for bus services in England, and has allocated hundreds of millions more to support private operators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Easington MP Grahame Morris welcomed the report: “This authoritative report from former UN Rapporteur Philip Alston confirms what we all know, outside of London, the UK Bus Sector is costly, fragmented and unreliable, and is failing the public.

After 30 years of private sector failure, it is time to demand accessible, accountable and democratically run bus services operated in the public’s best interests rather than private profits.

The report makes a strong case to take back control of our bus network and shows how systemic failure by the private sector has limited life chances and blocked people from participating in society.

The public can no longer be taken for a ride by rip off bus companies and government indifference to inadequate privatised bus services.

If privatisation worked, why has the government allowed Transport for London to control and regulate the network in the capital. Why is public transport too important to fail in the capital but is allowed to fall into ruin in our regions.”

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