Sat 6 Jan ‘18 16.00 GMT
Piccadilly Gardens bus station in Manchester. The city is likely to press ahead with reforms made possible under the Bus Services Act 2017. Photograph: Alamy
Buses and the Conservatives have rarely got along. Even if Margaret Thatcher didn’t really say that any man over 26 riding on a bus is a failure, her ministers did draw up the deregulation that doomed many services.
Boris Johnson splurged hundreds of millions to create an unreliable new double-decker for London. Most seriously of all, David Cameron’s government slashed grants to operators and funding to councils, leading to the widespread disappearance of local bus services across the country.
In London, buses are regulated by an authority and fares have been frozen. Elsewhere, services are being pared back and prices are rising. Passenger journeys have fallen to their lowest level in a decade: dipping under 5 billion annually across Britain, and to 4.4 billion in England – half of which are in the capital.
Yet an unlikely concession by a former Conservative chancellor has given transport authorities reason to hope. The Bus Services Act 2017, pinned to the regional devolution championed by George Osborne, could allow more areas to take back control and run routes and services as they see fit.
Manchester is likely to be the first to press ahead. Andy Burnham, the mayor, is blunt about his city’s bus system: “It’s confusing, it’s overpriced, a system where the private interest dominates over the public interest.”