The Conservatives should know a bit about buses. It was, after all, Mrs Thatcher's Transport Act 1985 which accomplished the destruction of nearly all municipal bus companies outside of a small number of metropolitan areas. Barbara Castle's earlier 1968 Transport Act had introduced the concept of public support for socially important but uncommercial services and this principle was retained. However, the deregulation that was a key element in the Thatcher act, led to a focus on profitable routes, destructive competition between companies and a lack of co-ordination or continuity of services.
The result was a slow reduction in bus service use outside the large designated conurbations - for 36 years so far.
But now, the Johnson Government, after a sleep nearly twice as long as Rip van Winkel's, has woken up with a belated promise to make buses, "the transport of choice" after the pandemic. A new 'Bus Strategy', headlined as being worth "£3 billion" is to tackle the fragmented bus service market and "reform the fare system".
There will be a "daily price cap", 4,000 new electric or hydrogen-fuelled buses and additional funding for councils to support bus services in their areas.
Last month, the Local Government Association's Transport Spokesman welcomed these measures but went on to say, " We would urge ministers also to plug the £700 million annual funding gap councils faced before the pandemic in providing the concessionary fares scheme, which would help protect local routes and reverse the decline in bus services."
Local Dacorum Borough councillor, Nick Hollinghurst - who is a member of the Green Liberal Democrats - added, "Any help for Britain's beleagured bus services is of course welcome. However lasting change and maximum benefit will only come if the people of the UK recognise the benefits that will derive from an improved and affordable public transport system, and also accept that, apart from a handful of specialised routes, this will require a continued, adequate level of public support."
"That, the power for local authorities to achieve control and co-ordination through active operating partnerships, and a measure of connectivity with the railways are all fundamental components for a modern socially-beneficial transport network."
"Or," Nick concluded, "we can all go back to sitting in expensive private cars in traffic jams, breathing in exhaust fumes and cooking up heart attacks as the planet slowly gets hotter and hotter!"