On Trains & Buses

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Trouble with passenger numbers

Posted on September 5, 2018

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Just when it needs some extra help with promotion, things are not going so well in the world of public transport. This past May saw a disastrous timetable changeover that still has its lingering effects at the time of writing. On day strikes are peppering the calendar with the RMT stoppages of Northern services every Saturday in September because of proposed changes in the train conductor role. Other train companies are affected by the same disagreement and it hardly is helping service regularity.

With all of this, is it any surprise that railway passenger growth has stalled and even shows signs of declining? After all, ticket prices continue to rise using what many consider to be the wrong inflation measure. The Retail Price Index applies and the Consumer Price Index always comes up as a suggested replacement. When some have not had salary increases for a long time and they need to commute by rail every working day, it is easy to see why this is an issue.

With those travails, it also is not that difficult why many work from home and it does nothing to help commuter numbers. Admittedly, I am one of those these days and that makes less of a bus or train user than I once was. After all, bus service cuts have taken and their toll and a heftily-priced season ticket would have been in order for one work opportunity. Being able to manage all my affairs from home feels better than alternative of a busy commute and others will relish the extra time for attending to their own family affairs. When you consider how many work on a train or bus while on the way to and from their place of employment, it does not sound like fun.

The stability of the bus network also needs mentioned for councils have been cutting back on subsidised services since the start of the decade. It almost feels like what happened to the railways when branch lines were closed in that when you withdraw one service, it affects others and the downward spiral in service availability and frequency then gets trapped in a vicious circle. For that reason, I do not trust bus services as much as I once so rail travel becomes my choice so long as nothing else affects that.

Even London has not escaped the pattern of falling bus use and network cuts are coming there too though the introduction of Crossrail surely must have an impact as much as the reinstatement of the railway between Edinburgh and Tweedbank had on local bus services. However, commuting and shopping have been sources of demand for bus travel and both are declining with online shopping being to the detriment of retail precincts everywhere. London apparently was unaffected for a long time but even it cannot stay that way.

Any trouble with public transport not only cuts off those who cannot drive but also increases traffic and this also has a knock-on effect on bus service reliability to the point that you wonder if buses need their own dedicated trackways like what has been tried in Edinburgh, Manchester and Cambridge. It all points to poor oversight of and commitment to public transport on the part of a distracted government so change is needed. Trams have escaped my mention here and they remain popular but it is what has happened to bus and train services that highlights the greatest need of attention.

It is little wonder then that nationalisation has reappeared as a proposal though it cannot solve problems on its own and there also is the option of moving to a concession model for public transport with the idea of competition dispatched in favour of integration and usability. That is how it feels in Sweden so the idea might have a future here is it was given a chance. Anything has to be better than the current unstable state of affairs.

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