Public Transport, Private Profit: The Human Cost of Privatizing Buses in the United Kingdom

The Human Rights and Privatization Project launched a report on the deregulation of local buses in the United Kingdom in July 2021. 

The report finds that the government’s 1985 decision to privatize and deregulate the bus sector in England (outside London), Scotland, and Wales has failed passengers and undermined their rights. Taxpayers are subsidizing corporate profits, while private operators are providing a service that is expensive, unreliable, and often dysfunctional. Fares have skyrocketed while ridership has plummeted, undermining efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions. This approach has also significantly impacted individual’s lives and rights. We found that people have lost jobs and benefits, faced barriers to healthcare, been forced to give up on education, sacrificed food and utilities, and been cut off from friends and family. The government’s new strategy for England leaves this deregulated system in place, and does not address its structural shortcomings. 

The report finds that running a bus service premised on profit and market competition, rather than on the well-being of the public, leads to violations of people’s rights and is incompatible with human rights law. It calls for public control of bus transport as the default approach, which would be more cost-effective and allow for reinvestment of profits, integrated networks, more efficient coverage, simpler fares, consistency with climate goals, and public accountability. Given the importance of public transport on access to essential services and rights, it also calls for a statutory minimum level of service frequency.