Activists are demanding public transport that actually serves the public

Protesters holding banners demanding 'fair buses now' in Bristol
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Two youth climate groups in the West of England have joined together to protest against ‘unfair’ buses. The groups are Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate (BYS4C) and Extinction Rebellion Youth Bristol (XRYB). With a list of demands, the group will be marching on Saturday 9 September.

Demands over buses

The groups have agreed upon a set of demands which include making buses in the West of England:

Free – for under 25s, students, and apprentices
We demand free travel within the West of England (including North Somerset) for all those under the age of 25, all students, and all apprentices.
Fair – access for riders and conditions for drivers
We demand a fairer bus service, including reversing the cuts to bus routes and improving working conditions for drivers.
Franchised – for people not profit
We demand that WECA follows suit with other local combined authorities around the UK and franchises our bus network, putting power back into the hands of local people and allowing our buses to be run for the good of everyone – not for private profit.

The Canary has previously reported on the actions of XRYB, writing in February 2023:

The protests were both part of XRYB’s ‘Free Buses, Fair Buses’ campaign that was launched in June. Alongside other groups, XRYB forms part of the ‘Reclaim Our Buses’ campaign – a coalition pushing for bus franchising in the West of England. Franchising in this instance would mean an end to unfettered deregulation, with councils regaining control over how bus services are run.

A bus protest

Banner drops on cranes

Read on...

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At the time, an open letter from XRYB to the local authority read:

The private bus companies are entirely profit-driven, so they’re justifying the bus cuts with the falling passenger numbers, rising fuel and wage costs, and driver shortages that make the services unprofitable with no regard for the public need. Further, the financial support from the government during the pandemic will soon end and the private bus companies are not obliged to continue running services that don’t make them profits. This deregulated market is always at odds with the bus services that many in our communities need to get to work, school, shops, and health centres.


According to a press release for the upcoming action, the:

coalition will be holding a rally at 1pm on College Green, Bristol, with speakers from various campaigns across the region. A march will then proceed through the city centre at 2pm, finishing at the WECA offices in Redcliff.

Supporters of the coalition are still to be finalised, but currently include Nailsea Climate Emergency Group, Bristol Students for Transport, Winterbourne and Frome Valley Environmental Group, and Ditch First Bus.

The press release adds:

The campaigners say that we need to take public control of our local buses through ‘franchising‘. With a franchised bus network, local governments would decide routes, timetables, and fares. Bus companies would compete to operate routes but must meet the criteria set out by the local/combined authority. This would prevent cuts to routes and frequency, help reduce fares, integrate different companies’ routes and tickets, and hold operators to account.

In the Greater Bristol/Bath area, this could be done by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), led by Metro Mayor Dan Norris. Although FirstBus may still win many contracts, the campaigners say that franchising would allow the public to hold them to account more easily.

The region has experienced drastic cuts to routes and services over the past year, with 42 services being cut in April, and a further six being cut in June.

‘A dire state’

Bristol-based student Sam said:

Our local buses are in a dire state. Dozens of route cuts have also isolated some people without cars from local services, education, jobs, and socialising, especially in rural areas, affecting the young, elderly, and working classes. On top of this, young person and student fares have continued to rise, despite a cap on adult fares. It’s time we took the common sense step of delivering a bus network that works for all our communities, with public control being the best way of achieving this goal.”=

Youth climate activist Josh said:

We all know that we’re in a climate emergency, with all the local authorities in the Bristol/Bath area committed to net-zero by 2030, but we also face a significant challenge with air pollution locally. That means a large shift towards public transport, walking, and cycling is needed, but to do that we need a reliable, cheap, and sustainable alternative to driving. Our current bus system doesn’t deliver that, with delays, cancellations, and route cuts being all too common.

Local campaigner Hannah said:

With public control through ‘franchising’, local government can take control of the network, preventing route and service cuts, integrating different routes, and lowering fares with these gained efficiencies. Under fully private control by companies such as FirstBus, we’ve seen a failed bus network. Public control works well for London and is being adopted by both Manchester and Wales – we need Metro Mayor Dan Norris to take action now to fix our broken buses.

Featured image via Reclaim our Buses (used with permission for this article), and additional images via XRYB, and Simon Holliday

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