On Monday I was interviewed on Clifton Down Station in Bristol for a YouTube video. It was commissioned by FoSBR (Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways) in connection with a campaign called “Bring Back British Rail”. It is so-called because many people now believe that the only way to get decent and affordable rail services in this country is to put the railways back in public ownership.
The Economist magazine was, I believe, the first to reveal that although our rail-fares are the highest in Europe, the level of public subsidy is nonetheless five times higher (inflation adjusted) than it was before the railways were privatised. It is now £5bn per annum. That is outrageous, surely. (unless you own shares in one of the Train Operating Companies to which we grant regional monopolies)
Anyway, my small contribution to this video was to relate a frequently problematic suburban rail journey I used to make here in Bristol, when I would try and travel the short distance from Clifton to my job in Ashton Vale on the other side of the city. Three miles maybe? It sometimes took an hour and a half because of inconvenient or non-existent connections; or late or cancelled trains. It never took less than 45 minutes; in fact I could walk it faster. By car it took only 15 minutes. I rest my case.
When the video is finished I’ll post it here.
That same evening, I attended a fascinating transport debate at the Colston Hall, hosted by Bristol Civic Society. I was intending to make a separate post about that but judging by the amount of expertise and strong views on display I am sure there will already be plenty of coverage in the blogosphere.
Much of the discussion was on bus services and the most depressing fact was the admission that the local authority has very little power on a range of issues, as 90% of the bus services are provided on a commercial basis by the virtually monopoly provider First Bus, who pay lip service to consultation and then do exactly as they please. A wag of a local journalist once described them as “Worst Bus”; but I didn’t say that. (“You might very well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment”, as has famously been said on many occasions)
Interestingly I have often travelled on buses owned by First Bus in London but there the situation is totally different, in that they don’t have a monopoly. As far as I can understand it, Transport for London tells the bus companies what to do. How different from the situation in our fair city; but according to statements from the Colston Hall platform that’s a situation we are stuck with due to the differences between regulation in the two cities.
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The Bring Back British Rail organisation was formed to campaign for publicly-owned railways. Their promotional material says they intend to “learn from the mistakes of BR of the past, remind the UK of the broader services that were available and the virtues of public ownership, and form a new, integrated rail system with a progressive, participatory structure”. www.bringbackbritishrail.org
Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways (FoSBR) campaigns for improved, integrated and sustainable local rail services in the Bristol area and for the reopening of closed-down passenger lines such as Bristol / Portishead. www.fosbr.org.uk