Monday, 10 October 2011

On yer bike!

Older readers will remember back to 1981, when Conservative Minister Norman Tebbit told the unemployed to get on their bikes and look for work. This was in the middle of a five year period when Sheffield lost 50,000 jobs – mainly in steel and engineering.

Recently, in an echo of Tebbit’s comment, Conservative Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith said that the unemployed should “get on a bus” to look for work.

Again, older readers will recall with nostalgia, Sheffield’s cheap bus fares’ policy of the same era. Margaret Thatcher put an end to that when she deregulated and privatised bus services. Unsurprisingly, bus fares rose dramatically, bus frequencies declined, passenger numbers fell by 30% and we ended up with congested roads.

Now, as a result of the Government’s spending cuts, we should expect another round of big fare rises and cuts in services. Firstly, there is to be a front-loaded 28% cut to local transport funding. This is used to fund ‘non-profitable’ bus services – especially evening, weekend and rural routes. Then, next January, the threat to local bus services will become even more serious thanks to the 20% cut in the bus operators’ fuel subsidy (BSOG).

So, as bus fares rise and frequency declines, and as unemployment increases as the Government fails to have a growth strategy to go with its deficit reduction strategy, shall we hear a repeat of ‘on yer bike’?

Of course, pensioners will need to get their bikes out as well. David Cameron will be able to say that he kept his election promise to retain pensioners’ bus passes. But a pass isn’t much use if there isn’t a bus to travel on.

And now the Government has announced that it is withdrawing the subsidy which provides pensioners’ concessionary fares on coach services.

Happy pedaling!