A frazzled mother starts huge bus service protest in Bristol

“I gave birth to my daughter in March, and I’ve begrudgingly had to place her in a nursery already because I have to work. The nursery is on the other side of Bristol to where I live. For more than a month now I’ve failed to drop her off on time because I’ve had to wait so long for a bus to turn up. The journey normally takes 45 minutes in the rush hour, but the waiting adds an extra 45 minutes (even though buses are supposed to run every 12 minutes).

Getting her home in the evening has been even more of an ordeal. Night after night we couldn’t get back before her bedtime. At the end of the week, my baby had bags under her eyes and red pupils – the sign of a true commuter, but she’s only seven-months-old. The waits were so long I had to breastfeed her on the side of the road. I don’t mind breastfeeding in public, but I’d rather not be outside in the middle of October balancing my baby on my knee.

I finally broke a week ago when the bus I was on – operated like most in the city by First Bus – was so full it passed two stops, leaving 60 passengers stranded. By the time I reached the city centre I’d used my phone to call for a demonstration on Facebook.

Over the next 24 hours 800 people signed up. Stories of missed hospital appointments, children being late for school and people being late for work flooded in. It quickly became clear I hadn’t just organised a demonstration; the outpouring of stories and anger was now online for all to see, share and sympathise.

First Bus contacted me after the demonstration was advertised to take place on 24 November in the centre of Bristol. They blamed students returning to Bristol’s two universities, schools restarting in September, road works and closures of the popular Bristol Parkway train station. But it has admitted that it is 150 drivers short in the west of England. To try to cope, staff have been brought in from as far away as Cornwall. Any company that runs an important service in a major city needs to have planning skills and the ability to recruit and retain staff.

Ironically, while this took place, the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, announced he wanted to double the number of passengers using Bristol buses. The idea that the current system could support twice the number of passengers is laughable and shows how far removed elected officials have become from the reality of privately run services. This is because they have had too little say in how transport services are run since they were rapidly privatised in the 1980s.

This is not just a problem for Bristol. The national campaign group We Own It says prices have risen by 35% above inflation as result of bus privatisation, and in the past 10 years £1.8bn of revenue generated by the big five bus companies – Arriva, Stagecoach, First, Go-Ahead and National Express – has gone straight to shareholders. This is money that could be reinvested into bus services if they were nationalised. …”