Tag Archives: Buses

Taking on the Buses in England

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.

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Budgets, Bullets, and Buses

Brother Rice Bey President, Amani United

Milwaukee       It wasn’t going to last long on a busy day, so I went with the Amani United leaders as they went downtown to testify to the county commissioners in solidarity with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) bus drivers who had supported them in their successful effort to stop the elimination or rerouting of the major bus line through the neighborhood.  It was a strange and confusing experience.

It was impossible to ignore some of the messages the commissioners were sending to the citizens.  They met in the courthouse complex abutting the jail.  Security was intense of course as is common in all courthouses now where tempers and tragedy run hot and hard.  The hearing room hardly held fifty people, which was strange for a county with almost one-million residents.  The leaders and I said in an anteroom outside the hearing where a speaker piped in the testimony and commissioner’s bodyless comments through their microphones.

It took me a bit to get a handle on the issues before the body.  I knew there were huge tensions between the union, the county, and the bus management.  The last contract came after a strike, and they were now working on an expired agreement with another strike looming.  A wagon load of issues separated the parties.  A retired driver with thirty years in before leaving a couple of years ago told me in the lobby about how much revenue the buses lost because the fare machines improperly recorded the take.  It must have been millions from his description, and it was certainly common knowledge to the drivers, so it must have been so to management as well.

Richard Diaz Amani United

But the issue at hand was security on the buses.  The sheriff’s office seemed to want deputies to ride on the buses, like the random air marshals that were on airplanes, until many were recently pulled by Trump to do border control work.  The head of the union in a fiery speech, threatening a strike again, seemed to want to allow the drivers to be armed and seemed to argue security for drivers and passengers was a key concern.  None of this was likely to increase ridership on the buses outside of our constituency of auto-less low- and moderate-income families where public transportation was a lifeline to work, grocery stores, schools, and public services.  Amani United leaders testified that buses were important and safety was an issue, but kept out of the weeds on buses having folks riding shotgun and creating another killing zone on wheels.

Was this a bargaining strategy or what?  The cost of putting a deputy on every bus route would be phenomenal!  The union must realize that this would be a budget buster and would end any hope of better wages and benefits.  If driver security and thefts of the fare-box were real issues, a bulletproof Plexiglas apparatus similar to the separation for cab drivers would be a simple, one-time fix and expense.  Live cameras and even metal screeners connected to the doors would be easier and cheaper to protect passengers, it would seem?

My small experience at the hearing certainly made me think, but I can’t say that either the commissioners or the union were doing much more than bulking up their own positions.

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Please enjoy Lonely People from Rickie Lee Jones.

Thanks to KABF.

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