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Public Transport, Private Profit

Press Release: Campaigners welcome Philip Alston’s report

Campaigners welcome groundbreaking report on bus privatisation;
UK governments embarrassed on international stage

London and Glasgow (19 July 2021) – a wide coalition of public transport and anti-poverty campaigners today endorsed Philip Alston’s new report on bus privatisation, a damning indictment of the UK’s human rights record on transport. ‘Public Transport, Private Profit’ is the first investigation by NYU Law’s ‘Human Rights & Privatisation Project’, which selected Britain’s bus crisis as one of the most significant examples of how privatisation encroaches on human rights in the world today. It builds on the former UN Rapporteur’s 2019 Report on Poverty in the UK, which found that ‘abandoning people to the private market… is incompatible with human rights requirements.’

The new report is a damning indictment of Britain’s ‘extreme form of privatisation and deregulation’, calling it a ‘35-year master class in how not to run a bus service’. Alston finds that, rather than making the ‘decisive changes needed’ to reverse the damage caused by this policy, the 2021 National Bus Strategy for England, and the Scottish Government’s new Bus Partnership Fund both ‘double down on the role of private companies.’ He concludes on human rights grounds that the bus partnerships favoured by both governments amount to a ‘failed middle ground that should be phased out in favour of public control and ownership’, and calls on them to ‘explicitly reject’ the notion that public transport provision can be left to the private market.

At a time when both governments are attempting to cement deregulation by pushing all local authorities into ‘Enhanced Partnerships’ (in England) and ‘Bus Service Improvement Partnerships’ (in Scotland), the report is expected to add to significant pressure to change course before key deadlines and local elections in spring 2022.

Read the Report

UK bus deregulation raises ‘serious human rights concerns’

Public Transport, Private Profit’ breaks new ground by prioritising the experience of bus passengers; giving a voice to people who are suffering the worst effects of transport poverty, or have even been excluded from access to services altogether. It raises ‘significant human rights concerns’ with the UK’s continued policy of deregulation, concluding that there is a ‘strong case to be made’ that it is in breach of its international human rights obligations.

Key recommendations from the report include making public control of buses ‘the default system’ (as is the case in nearly all other European countries) by changing the law to create a much easier and quicker transition to bus franchising, as well as lifting the ban on municipal ownership in England. The UK and devolved governments should provide ‘sufficient, stable and long-term funding’ for the provision of bus services, offering political and financial support to all local authorities pursuing public ownership or control. Statutory minimum service levels should also be enshrined in law, creating for the first time a statutory ‘right to public transport’. These changes provide the only possible basis to ensure affordability and an equal right to transport, as well as contributing to the UK’s climate change targets.

Britain’s Bus Crisis: Privatisation, Poverty & Human Rights

Launch event to be hosted by wide coalition of grassroots campaigners – ‘Public Transport, Private Profit’ launches with the support and endorsement of a wide coalition of public transport and anti-poverty campaigners, who will be hosting an exclusive launch event with Philip Alston and co-author Bassam Khawaja on Wednesday 21 July, 7-8pm.

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Co-hosts include: Get Glasgow Moving, Poverty Alliance, Association of British Commuters, the National Pensioners Convention, Better Buses for West Yorkshire, Better Buses for Greater Manchester, Better Buses for South Yorkshire and We Own It.

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“This groundbreaking report confirms the day-to-day experiences of millions of British people: the UK’s privatised and deregulated bus network is a failed experiment. The UK Government’s attempts to prop up this lumbering zombie are not only expensive but come at a huge human cost, incompatible with human rights law. As part of the levelling up agenda, these findings should spark the fastest changes in transportation policy this country has ever seen, with steps taken to put our communities at the heart of bus travel within the current Parliament. Meanwhile, devolved mayors and governments must deliver public control and ownership as a matter of urgency, to provide the cheap, integrated, and reliable buses we all deserve.”
– Matthew Topham, Better Buses for West Yorkshire

“There is only one conclusion to take from this report – the government must urgently amend bus legislation and provide proper support to councils to move towards public control and ownership. There are now just months left before England’s National Bus Strategy locks us into bus deregulation for another generation. Failure to act will leave the UK on the wrong side of history – and the government in serious breach of its human rights obligations.”
– Emily Yates, Association of British Commuters

“Scotland has had power over its bus network since devolution in 1999, yet it has done absolutely nothing to undo the damage caused by deregulation, and is now pursuing the status quo even more aggressively than Westminster. Although new powers for public control and ownership of buses were introduced in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 after our long-fought campaign at the Parliament, two years on, these are yet to be enacted or have any support or funding attached. Meanwhile the Scottish Government’s ill-conceived Bus Partnership Fund is forcing all local authorities into so-called ‘Bus Service Improvement Partnerships’ (BSIPs), which will lock us into this broken privatised system for years to come. We hope this report – with its accompanied scrutiny on the global stage – will be the wake-up call they need to change track.”
– Ellie Harrison, Get Glasgow Moving

Press contacts:

Further inquiries about the report should be directed to its co-author Bassam Khawaja on:

England enquiries:
Emily Yates,
Matthew Topham,

Scotland enquiries:
Ellie Harrison,

Images of Philip Alston’s 2018 visit to the UK are available here.

Notes to Editor:

There is now a near-unanimous consensus in the UK regarding the urgent need to amend England’s Bus Services Act (2017). This was a key recommendation in 2021 reports by Centre for Cities and CPRE as well as the main conclusion of the Transport Select Committee’s 2019 inquiry into the health of the bus market. In 2020, the National Audit Office noted that the Bus Services Act (2017) had ‘made little difference’ to councils in moving towards either partnerships or franchising. To date, there has been just one Enhanced Partnership set up in Hertfordshire and Greater Manchester is the only local authority to have begun the bus franchising process.

Pages 33-35 of the report list the UK’s international human rights obligations directly related to transportation, including: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The 2010 Equality Act’s socio-economic duty has also not been incorporated in regard to the bus sector.