It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint on securing this important debate. I have to confess that I love buses. Being on one gives people a chance to daydream, to chat to strangers, and now, on wi-fi-enabled buses, to do their emails. Communities like mine—clusters of small communities—really rely on their bus routes.
The economic gap between towns and cities is demonstrated by the differing opportunities to use buses to get out and about. The Urban Transport Group has shown that one in 10 people would be out of a job without their bus service. Two thirds of bus passengers earn less than £24,000 a year. These are working people on low wages or benefits, the unemployed, students and retirees—people who are already under pressure because of austerity.
With only one railway station in Batley and Spen, for a service that has really struggled with timetable changes, our roads are becoming increasingly congested, with parking on pavements and speeding cars being common complaints. We need a green alternative, and buses are that alternative. With air pollution rising beyond official limits and deaths connected to poor air quality on the rise, we need more people to use buses and trains.
I have been inundated with correspondence on Arriva’s bus timetable changes in Batley and Spen. One woman might be forced to give up her cleaning job at a local school, which she has had for 18 years, because the bus will no longer go down her road. A 92-year-old will now have to use a taxi to get to the doctors, rendering her bus pass useless. Numerous residents have told me that the changes will result in them becoming further isolated from jobs and opportunities, robbing them of time with family, friends and loved ones. The changes have been made for cost reasons, but buses are not unprofitable. Bus companies have raked in a combined £3.3 billion in profit since 2009-10. We can make money out of these bus services.
We need to readjust our priorities for towns. Our constituents should not be abandoned by bus companies due to their emphasis on lucrative routes only. I echo my right hon. Friend’s request for a national transport and towns conversation, a bus consultation review and a rebuilding Britain fund.