What goes around, comes around…unless you’re the Preston Orbital bus route.Advertisement
Rotala, the owners of former employee-owned Preston Bus, claim the route is impractical and unprofitable. They have announced a series of changes to their routes that partially replace the orbital route but leave some passengers stranded and others facing multiple journeys to get to the same place.
If a private company are making a loss on a service, it seems inevitable the service will change or be stopped. They have no obligation to provide anything that doesn’t increase that bottom line of the balance sheet; but we are talking about vital community transport and economic infrastructure here – and that means people will struggle to get to work, to school and college or to hospital; to visit the doctor and the sick.
It’s not a decision that should be debated at a shareholders meeting. It’s a debate about need, about sustainability and about the knock-on effect on the local economy.
But that debate has not taken place, it has not taken place because the bus company simply don’t have to, when buses were deregulated by Margaret Thatcher, councils lost almost all power to influence local public transport for those that use it and pay for it, i.e. the public.
And now, the only influence local government retained over buses, the ability to subsidise unprofitable routes, is being taken away by a government that makes Thatcher look middle of the road.
Not that the Orbital bus was subsidised, but it could have been, or it could have been discussed, if council funding had not been ransacked by Westminster.
So Rotala decided meaningful consultation was unnecessary. The route was admittedly, a difficult one for them but as a public relations exercise, it’s about as bad as it gets. The news was leaked by employees, denied on social media by company management, before being finally confirmed as the truth.
Companies like this need to realise they are not selling vacuum cleaners. They are providing a vital public service and they need to treat it as such. The public deserve better, if only for the fact that more than £1million of public money was spent creating the route in 2003. If the route doesn’t work, it doesn’t work; but that debate has not been had, at least not to the satisfaction of the service users, the ones that matter.
It feels like Rotala have made a very cynical decision, knowing that councils are likely to get the blame for this amid hundreds of other cutbacks, when nothing could be further from the truth.
You can be sure councillors will meet with officials and petitions will be presented. However, any leftover good will, following the transfer from Preston Bus, will quickly diminish if the Orbital bus stops at the terminus for the final time. Politicians know all too well that people don’t forget when they’ve been short-changed, and Rotala will discover that what goes around, comes around…
Mark Yates is the councillor for the Larches ward in Preston, where the Orbit passes through