Park House student and young Newbury CLP member Ben Marshall has written a blog about his experiences using West Berkshire public transport to travel to school every day.
The return to school marks the return of a regular nightmare for commuting students of Newbury schools; the tortuous bus journeys.
Last year, Reading buses cut back their services, relied upon by countless students in the Newbury area. By merging bus routes together, they increased the load on each bus. For a service where already you could be lucky to get a seat, this made things go from bad to worse.
On numerous occasions, this creates a difficult situation where the bus is overpacked past the advertised safety limit. This creates a dilemma for drivers and passengers alike. More than once, my friends and I have been left stranded due to an overpacked service. The buses are so infrequent that there’s no hope of another ride for hours. This means a half an hour trek to the train station; an hour waiting and a train journey home. And we all know how the trains are; extortionately expensive and utterly unreliable. Some of these stranded children are as young as eleven years old, travelling alone.
What’s more, the buses never seem to arrive at the same time day to day, week to week. There is a half an hour time window in which the bus could arrive at any point. Even worse, occasionally we’ll wait for an age – for a service that has been agreed to arrive at a time suitable for students – only to find that the bus has already passed by, before we were out of school. Of course, we understand that traffic is a huge factor. But the horrendous traffic in Newbury at this time is essentially the same day to day. It does not make this total lack of punctuality acceptable.
Of course, you could suggest that this is simply the nature of a rural bus service. However, I suggest that it is instead the for-profit nature of the bus company that is the heart of the problem here. These buses are relied upon by students out of their school’s local catchment area who don’t have access to free travel. Yet these cuts have been in the interest of profit margins, not the public. There is a conflict of interests that comes with having a public service in the private sector. This goes further than buses. This extends to all forms of public transport. Trains that were once run by our state are now run by independent for-profit companies, at the cost of commuters everywhere. It even extends to our National Health Service. People’s very lives are more and more in the hands of people whose first concern is profit, as we head towards a privatised health service under the guidance of the Conservative government.
Privatisation has created a journey home more suitable for Odysseus than your average school student.