Whether it’s the express service to your local town or city, or the small route that trundles from village to village, busses are often crucial community lifelines that many people rely on. But as passenger numbers continue to struggle since the pandemic, operators across the country are having to slash back on routes and timetables, often cutting the most crucial services first.
In this article we’ll discuss an example from Newcastle which shows what steps you can take to help try and save a local bus route and why this is so important when it comes to being a great local campaigner or Councillor.
How do bus routes work?
The history of busses in Britain is a long and complicated one, but with the exception of London, almost all bus routes are created by private operators like First, Stagecoach, Arriva or the Go Group to try and make profit. These routes are commercial operations and therefore need to make the operator money or they can just pull the route from their timetable.
For routes that don’t make a profit, but do serve as a vital community link or asset, often a local or combined authority will step in and subsidise the operating of this route. This is known as a protected route or protected section. But as Local Government finances continue to be stretched, many authorities can’t afford to step-in to cover all these gaps and instead must prioritise certain routes.
This is where your campaign to save that bus will be desperately needed!
What the team in Newcastle did
In one of Newcastle’s key swing wards, Jesmond, there’s only one bus route that serves the entire community – the Q3. This was threatened with being removed from Jesmond and cutting off residents from the city centre. The local Lib Dem team stepped in to action to try and save this service.
The first thing the team did was immediately write up a press release as bus route cuts can often be a key issue to get into the press. This is a quick and easy way to get off the blocks, but it’s important to do this as soon as possible.
After that, it was straight on to a petition. Petitions are a cheap and easy way to get your issue in front of as many people as possible, and show the council or bus operator that you have the backing of residents.
Make sure to combine your paper petition with a digital one hosted through your party website (not a digital petition service like change.org or similar!) and start to publicise this through social media. Community groups on Facebook and NextDoor are great places to push this.
The team in Jesmond did this to great effect and the petition took off across the impacted community groups on Facebook.
Alongside the petition, the Jesmond team made ‘save the Q3’ a key focus story in a number of their leaflets leading up to the election. Whether it was the front page headline story, or just a small update section, residents were always kept informed of what the team were doing. This is really important as it keeps the issue live in the minds of residents, and shows that the team are constantly fighting on their behalf.
Lastly, the team made sure to utilise key opportunities like a question to full council, and a more general motion to Council where they could talk about the importance of their local bus (you can find a superb campaign pack on saving local busses here). Again, showing residents that the team were fighting for them and not letting the issue go away.
All of this combined to mean the pressure on the Council to save the route was too much and the team were successful in maintaining the Q3!
The job didn’t stop there though, Jesmond Lib Dems celebrated their success in Focus, Street-letters, a press release and on social media! It’s always important to make sure you can get the political credit.
You can do it too!
Trying to save a bus route might seem like a truly daunting task, but if you just keep the pressure on your council, keep residents talking about it, and utilise the resources available to you, you can follow in the footsteps of Newcastle Lib Dems and save that vital community asset.