Poor communities are being taken for a ride by our transport system

Over the past 20 years, the richest 10% have had their transport subsidised 4 times more than the poorest 10%. And yet it's the poorest who rely on public transport most.

Andrew Raimondi


The Campaign for Better Transport yesterday reported that Councils throughout the United Kingdom are being left with little option but to slash funding for local buses, and in some cases, to withdraw subsidy altogether. These decisions spell disaster for many communities,  and are contributing to an explosion in levels of transport poverty – something which has repercussions for wider inequality across the UK.

Taken For a Ride, a new study by the Equality Trust, illustrates the depth and scope of this inequality. Poorer and working class communities depend on public transport most. Of the poorest fifth of UK households, half do not own cars, and maintenance costs weigh heavily on those that do. The result is that they spend more money on taxis than any other group – the most expensive form of transport per mile. Over the past 20 years, the richest 10% have had their transport subsidised 4 times more than the poorest 10%.

The highest real income earners receive almost £1bn in annual transport subsidies, while the lowest receive just about £300 million, more than two thirds less. For too many, public transport is simply not an affordable or useful option.

The current approach to local transport restricts the growth and development of communities across the country in a number of ways. It makes finding a job more difficult, restrict access to healthcare, and limits social and cultural activities, all factors of inequality which correlate to higher rates of drug abuse, obesity, and crime.

On the other hand, the economic benefits of widening access to public transport are huge. Loneliness and isolation decrease as socialisation increases, and people become healthier, happier, and more independent. The Equality Trust’s report suggest that steps must be taken to implement fairer policies in public transport, which, if correctly implemented, will help to reverse the negative effects of inequality.

Through out People’s Bus campaign, the Co-operative Party is working to end transport inequality. For example, we’ll work to ensure that the upcoming Bus Bill designates local routes as community assets, giving the communities served by buses greater control over the routes they need.

This legislation must also take steps to limit the power of privatised bus operators to dictate routes and fares, instead increasing opportunities for councils to target subsidies where they are needed most, and shifting the focus of public transport to people rather than profit.

Overwhelming amounts of evidence show that the UK’s system of public transport is unequal, and that this inequality negatively impacts communities across the country. The pressure put on local councils to reduce services by central government funding cuts will only exacerbate these problems.

That’s why we’re proposing another way forward – one that reduces public transport inequality by ensuring that local people have a voice in the services they use.

 Join our campaign for buses run for people, not profit