Taking on the Buses in England

ACORN ACORN International
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Sheffield     ACORN in the United Kingdom is known largely as the ACORN Tenants’ Union, and no matter where we have organized, the affordable housing crisis has come to the forefront even though there is a long list of other issues.  We have embraced our reputation and work as a union whether on eviction defense, landlord licensing, reforms of letting agencies, and best practices from rent levels to health standards for units.

But, that’s not all of course.  In Sheffield, Manchester, and Bristol, bus transportation has become a huge issue for our members.  An action in Bristol on the eve of my arrival in the country with more than one-hundred members was dramatic and well publicized as ACORN members rallied over their concerns and issues with the bus system.  The action featured a eight-foot long cardboard bus held up by the members as they marched.  Made the point!

What’s it all about?

In England the bus system has been privatized for quite a period of time, yet cities have more or less control over the private contractors, which in Bristol and some other cities is the multinational First Bus company.  The heart of the ACORN demands is that a franchise system that provides more public control of the system is needed.  London is the model franchise system in England through Transport for London.  ACORN members in each city, no matter the contractor, are demanding more control over the fare rates and the routes.  The company is blaming the cities for congestion slowing the routes and not providing the subsidies that would involve lower fares.

Car ownership is not ubiquitous in the way it is in many areas of North America outside of the largest cities like Toronto, New York City, Chicago, and others where subways, streetcars, and buses are able to move the millions.  In Manchester, trams made a big difference, but in cities like Bristol, transportation is a more difficult proposition.

Many studies around the world have established that the higher the fares, the lower the ridership.  More than one-hundred cities around the country offer free transportation.  Some cities are now experimenting with providing free bus service on the routes with the most low-income riders from home to work and back again.

None of these experiments and proposals that are citizen and customer facing seem likely in a totally privatized system.   The report in “Bristol LIVE” of the bus action seemed mainly a platform for rationalizations and finger-pointing from the regional manager of First Bus at the city, the riders, and about everyone else anywhere in range.

All of which will deepen the commitment of ACORN in England in pursing reforms at the city level to improve bus transportation which the members are demanding.