05 October 2011: From the banks of Merseyside to the bustling city centre of Manchester, our campaign bus has been met by huge public support wherever it parks up. Government and opposition ministers have all got on board to talk about the future for the country’s best used form of public transport.
It has been an eventful three weeks for the Save our Buses campaign. No sooner had we pulled up the campaign bus at the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham, we were off again in the direction of Liverpool and the Labour party conference. Last Monday, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Maria Eagle and Shadow Minister for Buses Andrew Gwynne, along with other MPs, spent time at the bus discussing the role of buses with students from Liverpool Sixth Form College. The Save our Buses campaign video, made by young public transport users, was screened on board and got everyone talking. In fact Maria Eagle was still talking about what she had heard from the students when she addressed the Passenger Transport Executive fringe meeting that evening. She recounted that some of the students had had to give up part time work because of cuts to evening services, and they were all worried that now that they are without the EMA, young people will struggle to pay rising bus fares.
Delegates queuing up to get into the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week were all met with the sight of the campaign bus and banner outside of the Town Hall. Visitors on the bus included Paul Maynard MP from the Transport Select Committee, local councillors, bus users and members of Friends of the Earth Manchester. Speaking at a Transport for Greater Manchester fringe meeting that evening, Paul Maynard praised the campaign, talking about the role we play in helping people engage properly in council consultations on bus cuts.
We want the voice of bus passengers to be heard by those in power, and I was delighted to be joined by West Sussex bus campaigner Caroline Collins when I attended the Transport Times fringe meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Caroline had the opportunity to question Theresa Villiers, Minister for Transport, and asked what she thought of councils like West Sussex who are on the one hand telling Caroline’s village to go green and on the other hand taking away their only bus service. Unfortunately the answer about reduced spending and localism was all too familiar. Brian Souter, founder of Stagecoach, suggested that the Government should give villages like Caroline’s an eight seater car to drive as a community transport vehicle. Caroline commented that this wouldn’t solve the challenge faced by her and the other working parents of the 34 children who will be left unable to get to school if their bus is withdrawn.
Campaigning for funding and support for buses in this financial climate is far from easy, and we have faced challenges and at times felt frustrated. However the response from bus users in each city we visited has been overwhelming and shows that our efforts are vital. Workers, students and shoppers have all been quick to tell us that the provision of good bus services is already high up their list of priorities. With the help of our campaign bus we are getting the issue of bus cuts higher up the agenda for politicians too.