The campaign to save London’s buses is being spearheaded by UNITE and supported by many pensioners and disabled groups across the capital. The proposals, which are a direct result of massive cuts to the budget of Transport for London being imposed by the government, will hugely impact on London’s poorest and most marginalised communities. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has had to go several times cap in hand to the government since the start of the pandemic as TfL’s finances collapsed because of the impact of the pandemic on the transport budget. London, alone among Europe’s great cities, is totally dependent on fare revenues for its public transport system. As passenger numbers fell and commuting habits changed, with more office workers working from home, the income stream fell dramatically. The result was that Khan had to ask for a bailout from the Tory government — but this came with strings attached, which included substantial cuts in services.
The bus network in London, with bus travel, is cheaper than the Tube or trains and is used to a huge extent by low-paid workers, many from black and ethnic minority communities, as well as older and disabled people. During the protests against the cuts, led by UNITE and UNITE Community, DPAC, the radical campaign group for disability rights, has consistently pointed out what the impact of these cuts and overcrowded buses will have on disabled people. There is even a suggestion that some bus stops will be removed, making bus access even more difficult for the disabled and older people who have mobility problems. The unfairness of the cuts is also shown by the fact that Southwark, the area where I live, which has virtually no tube network, will shoulder 25% of the cuts, whereas many richer parts of the city will have less severe cuts. The campaign has been supported by bus drivers across the city, and as John Murphy, the UNITE regional officer for bus drivers, pointed out recently at a demo, it was bus drivers who came to the aid of Londoners during many recent disasters, including the attacks at London Bridge, evacuating people from the area. Many bus drivers, as frontline workers, also suffered from a high fatality rate during the pandemic.
DPAC and others are now demanding that the campaign support die-ins and occupations prevent the Mayor and TfL from effectively making public transport for many of London’s poorest people inaccessible. UNITE will continue to fight these plans and to campaign against both the Mayor and TfL while recognising that the Tory government, not content with the many who died because of the years of austerity, are now trying to cause further misery for millions of Londoners.
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