Of the issues differentiating the metropolitan mindset in the capital from opinions voiced elsewhere, the starkest is probably transport. We hear much about the overcrowded rail network in London and the south east, where fares are among the most expensive in Europe. Of course we do: much of the national media works from London. And we have warm words for the buses in the capital, where since Ken Livingstone’s first mayoral administration, starting in 2000, the mayoralty and Transport for London have assumed regulatory powers, determining prices and frequency with dramatic success.
Travel outside London, however, and Britain’s deregulated bus system reveals itself as the source of widespread, justified disgruntlement – an overpriced, inefficient, poor-quality mess. According to a report to be published this week, since deregulation in 1986 – unleashed with the promise that “more people would travel” – bus trips in big cities outside London have collapsed from 2bn to 1bn a year. In London, on the other hand, where everything from how much we pay to which routes exist is decided by the mayor and Transport for London, bus use since the 1980s has gone in the opposite direction: from around 1bn to more than 2bn trips a year. Britain’s bus privatisation disaster is a story of profit before need, and a discomfiting tale for those who believe the private sector automatically trumps the public realm.
Interesting to be able to directly compare London (centrally planned and regulated) and everywhere else (chaos).