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In your view, what is wrong with British public transport and what would you do to solve the problems?

Matt N

CF Legend
Hi guys. With climate change becoming an increasing issue, public transport is arguably more important than ever. One thing I have noticed is that in general, people’s opinion of British public transport is pretty low, and UK public transport supposedly being awful almost seems to be a running joke. This country’s bus and train networks have a pretty bad reputation among many people. But I’d be keen to know; in your view, what is so wrong with it, and what would you do to solve the problems?

I’ll admit that I’m a little stumped as to what’s supposedly so awful about British public transport. I admittedly don’t know any different to how public transport is in the UK, but the public transport network we have functions perfectly well, from what I can see. Admittedly, the strikes don’t paint an especially rosy picture from a worker’s standpoint, but those are caused more by pay and the countrywide economic situation than anything to do with how the system functions from a user standpoint. Sure, a bus only runs through my village once every 3 hours, but I always put that down to living in a rural area rather than any specific issue with British public transport; surely sporadic public transport coverage is to be expected in a rural area? Isn’t that the case for any public transport network?

So I’d be keen to know; why is it that everyone seemingly hates Britain’s public transport network so much?


Giga Poster
I don't really use buses so I won't comment there. In terms of the rail companies:

Privatisation. There is absolutely no incentive for rail companies to provide a cost-effective, efficient service anymore.

I use trains fairly frequently and it's actually embarrassing how expensive they are. I've actually met friends abroad and managed to get return flights AND a hotel cheaper than spending 4 hours travelling to London for a rendezvous (that's just one example).

Avanti (who took over from Virgin) have somehow had the balls to up the already extortionate rate without even renovating the trains or improving the service. Same interior design with their company logo just brazenly thrown over where 'Virgin' used to be. Also, try finding a plug socket on their train so you can simply charge your phone.

Then I look at the numerous trains I have used across mainland Europe. Simple, comfortable, fast, regular... on time. It's a joke.


Mega Poster
I'm going to keep it simple...

It's far too expensive - why get the train when you can drive for a fraction of the cost, espcially if there is more than one of you going somewhere.
It's far too unreailbe - if you need to get somewhere for a specific time, you can guartenee the bus / train or whatever the transportation you are intended to get will be late and slow.

What needs to happen? Bring it all in to public ownership and subsudise it and then people may the. start to think about using it more.
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Hyper Poster
Trains are just brutally expensive. An off peak return from Bristol to London is close to £70.

Transport within London is pretty good though.


Hyper Poster
A topic I absolutely love to talk about.

First of all busses. The UK bus system is weird to say the least. A bunch of private operators which in some cases are fairly regulated, while in other cases run in some kind of free-for-all. Busses are the backbone of public transport and needs to be better managed. For the ideal customer and socioeconomic benefit bus operations need franchise systems. Where the municipality/county decide routes, frequencies and capacities. These companies should also set and collect the fares. Private companies should be payed to provide the actual service, according to the very set requirements. Bus transport is incredibly important for building well functioning communities and should be the backbone of any public transport system. Busses allow people to find jobs, take part in education, shop, etc. Therefore it is absolutely vital the bus systems work and system strength is more important than profits. Because buses deliver such benefits the franchise system is necessary and cities should be prepared to spend on busses, they wont regret it. What I find worrying is the UKs falling bus ridership numbers. I suspect it has something to do with the botched privatisation and in my opinion this is the most worrying part of British public transport.

Now the trains. Brits love to hate on trains and the privatisation. In my opinion the issue here is not the privatisation itself and most brits seem to agree with me. In 2019 train ridership was up 118% compared to pre privatisation. If more people ride the rails, surely something must be better.

In my opinion there are two large issues here. Firstly the infrastructure. The country that invented the train should honestly be ashamed of itself for today's infrastructure. Things are so bad that even one of the major right of ways, the Midlands Main Line, isn't even electrified. The massive increase in ridership requires equal increases infrastructure. Things like modernised railways with more capacity, better signalling, electrification and even speed improvements need to happen for services to improve.

This brings me on to my second point. The privatisation. While I like the idea of privatisation the UK totally botched this one. Train operators bid on monopolies on specific franchises. Usually the overestimate their bid leading them to go under. At the same time they are able to extort the customer while offering bad service due to their monopoly. This is lunacy.

Sweden's privatisation should be seen as an example here. The government own the track and operators pay track access fees which are fairly reasonable (similar to Network Rail). Then there are two types of railroads in Sweden. Local and regional trains which are run as fixed franchises by the counties or multiple counties that have joined forces. The counties provide the trains, schedules, tickets and fares. Private operators bid on running these franchises based on the county's fixed standards. The private operator need only to be concerned with their own cost in the bid, the county itself is responsible for setting fares and selling tickets.

The other type of rail road are the intercity and high speed services which are run as a private unregulated market. Anyone can pay track access and run a train wherever they want. This is also brilliant as it assures the customer is always in focus. If these for profit train operators are not able to attract customers from their competition then they will go under, leading to lower fares and better service. This is not possible in a monopoly.

The Swedish system isn't brilliant but in my opinion it is better for all parts than the British one. The UK looks to be leaning more towards a fixed cost franchise system. Though they don't seem to understand the separation go intercity services from the franchises. I am certain that with the right conditions countless private operators will want to run intercity open access trains in the UK, leading to a better experience. While the local services need to be subsidies but do lead to other socioeconomic benefits.


Giga Poster
I think that sums it up well.

For a given region, I don't think it really works to have multiple bus operators on the same route because it is just a completley different type of travel.

Like when you make a long distance rail journey or fliight, you typically plan and book ahead, and then get on your train or plane when the time comes.

This approach doesn't work with urban buses, because in that situation you just want to get on the soonest bus that is headed where you intend to go.
Having 'competition' makes it worse because if your pass only covers one operator, you are having to wait longer till a bus you can board arrives.

Whereas if you have one operator under contract to the government, you can offer predictability.

The way Christian describes it is how it works in Australia too.

You have an authority responsible for all buses/trains/trams/ferries in a state or urban region.

They write the timetables, set and collect fares and plan the system.

Private operators bid to run the actual routes to the specification set by the authority.

Eg, we will pay you $x million per year to run this tram line, services must run at these times, perform maintenance etc, penalties will apply for late running, not maintaining set cleanliness.

Full privatisation sucks because an essential service shouldn't be subject to how much money can be made, because of course certain routes serving areas of small population will need more subsidy


Hyper Poster
To expand on what I previously wrote. While not being as flashy as long distance rail, local transit such as busses and commuter trains are so incredibly important for the community. Imagine a low income neighbourhood with high unemployment. If this neighbourhood would get good quality transit to a work intensive industry such as an airport or a factory then employment will undoubtedly increase and the wellbeing of the area will in turn also increase. Keeping these people employed is massively more profitable for the city government than not spending on a bus line.

If a smaller village gets bus connection to a city center, probably more youth will choose to get education, thereby creating a more qualified workforce. The examples are countless but for some people local transit can be so incredibly important and the greater good needs to be prioritised over insignificant spending cuts.

In the case of theme parks. If a city has a good theme park but no transit to it then it will certainly be less visited. If they would add good transit to the theme park, then they will increase in the city's image and attract more tourist which in turn spend money and keep people employed. Equally, if they are able to funnel those who are unemployed to the theme park then employment will rise.

Not to talk about the whole green transformation and all that. Nowadays it's more important than ever before to pull people out of their cars and put them on well functioning transit.
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