Tuesday 7 December 2010

Public Transport – A Private View

I went up to the Anti-Cuts demonstration in Norwich on Saturday by public transport. When I got on the Anglian bus to Lowestoft, I discovered the return fare had suddenly gone up from £3.80 to £5.20. That’s roughly 40% in one go. The driver gave me the new day ticket for a mere £5. I could now travel all day anywhere within Zone C. But all I actually wanted was a return ticket to Lowestoft. And it was still a costly increase at over 30%.

The drivers on this route are normally cheerful and friendly. It makes a real difference to the journey. Today, this man looked tired. “It can’t be making your life easy at the moment,” I said. “Being the first port of call for the bad news.” He rolled his eyes up and I had a vision of all the drivers in the front line facing the passengers’ annoyance whilst the people making the decisions sat in offices - and not just the Anglian ones - shielded from it.

So I called head office this morning and spoke to Anglian's accountant. He told me some fares in the region had actually gone down (Harleston to Norwich for instance), whilst those from Halesworth to Norwich (bus 588) and Southwold to Great Yarmouth (bus 601, the one I was on) had gone up. The 601 is an unsubsidised commercial route. It does have to do with the cuts and loss of grants and council subsidies.

"I agree yours was a particularly sharp increase," he said. "We've introduced the day tickets. But that's still a £1.20 rise."

He then said that Anglian had increased their fares early in order to shield from further sharp rises in the future, although that wasn't guaranteed entirely. And that rural communities would be particularly hard hit.

"I am surprised by the lack of feedback from the public so far about the changes," he said.

The man at Head Office said he was also perplexed why there were oil price increases now the economy is said to be 'in recovery'. I mentioned Peak Oil and resource depletion (after all it is a bus company I'm talking to), and he told me about the dual fuel buses they are planning to use with methane generated from landfill. These are not in place yet.

There was also no increase in pay for the bus drivers beyond the 2% they received in October.

"Are the drivers unionised," I asked.
"I don't really understand why they would want to be."

So then what about the fact they were in the firing line of passengers annoyed by the fare rises?
"Yes, that's not great, they're a really good bunch of guys."

I looked at Anglian's website afterwards and found only the most oblique reference to the fare changes. About the day passes for Lowestoft, Yarmouth and Norwich: "In some instances a ticket may be cheaper than buying a return ticket !!"

At this transition time of peak resources and climate change we need to be using public instead of private transport, and making sure there is reasonably-priced access to it for people in rural areas on low income. And there are many of us. These fare rises, like the cuts themselves, hit hardest where there is the least leverage.

It takes effort to be bothered about these things. To give feedback. Even when they affect us directly. This does affect me directly and I really didn't want to pick up that phone this morning and call Anglian. I forced myself to. And that's because I really don't want to return to some Victorian world of vast inequality, with a ruling elite who despise the working class and the unemployed underclass are sent to the equivalent of workhouses, providing labour in return for the bare essentials of existence.

And who can't afford to get on the bus to Lowestoft.

Pics: Merry Christmas from Your Local Bus Company Day Ticket; Me on the bus holding The Long Emergency - Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century by James Howard Kunstler and The Rough Guide To Climate Change by Robert Henson. I had intended to review these books this week but I was overtaken by the bus.

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