If you’ve chosen to live off campus, by now you should be well versed in getting the bus and experiencing the glory (read: hell) that is public transport. That experience is about to get a whole lot more gruesome, and not just because it’s almost Halloween.
Tomorrow, more than 2000 of Arriva’s bus drivers will take strike action against pay inequality. Union officials have claimed that pay difference across depots can be up to £1.73 an hour, and if the dispute remains unresolved by tomorrow, two further strike days are planned for Monday 23rd October and Monday 30th October. No Arriva buses will operate on these days.
Stagecoach employees have also arranged strikes on the last two Mondays in October, meaning that, in conjunction with the Lime Street closure and subsequent Merseyrail disruptions, thousands of commuters will potentially face severe delays or be left completely stranded.
These walkouts come weeks after extensive Merseyrail strikes in early September and October. These coincided with the Fusion Festival, one of the city’s largest events of the year, leaving festival-goers and locals to suffer over-capacity bus services. More strike days took place throughout the year, notably on Grand National day and the last day of The Open golf championship at Royal Birkdale. Employees are protesting the removal of train guards on the new fleet in 2020, despite the fact that Merseyrail has specified that none of their guards will lose their jobs.
Even when these strikes reach their conclusion, one thing will never change: Liverpool’s public transportation continues to worsen year on year. Fares are again on the rise, despite a lot of routes facing less frequent services, regular delays and even some buses not turning up at all. Trains may be the more reliable option – that is, if someone ever realises that three carriage trains in rush hour are not sufficient. With young people being priced out of driving because of soaring insurance costs, and with more students entering university each year, the demand for efficient public transport is simply not being met.
Despite the gravity of the failings of our bus and train services, somehow it is the people who play a part in this that claim to be suffering injustice. Even with year on year pay increases and an average salary of £23,000 per annum, some bus drivers are taking strike action for better pay. The Merseyrail strikes are more laughable than them all; deliberate disruption on the busiest days of the year simply because their job description is going to change. Undoubtedly they are not the only employees who have had their duties changed in their job roles, but somehow it is acceptable for mass strike action to take place in their industry and not others.
Ultimately this comes down to one thing: lack of competition. With Merseyrail, Arriva and Stagecoach being the biggest transportation services in Liverpool, their employees are well aware that the city will cease to run without them, and bosses are well aware that commuters have no other choice. Because of this, they can charge whatever they like and do whatever they want with few repercussions. The only answers to this appalling system are to either minimise the power of the unions or to nationalise public transportation. Transport for London, for example, is a non-profit organisation that provides tube services and buses every few minutes; why can’t a major city like Liverpool benefit from this kind of system too? Manchester has free inter-city buses, trams and £1 fare buses, yet Liverpool is years behind in providing this kind of service.
Decent public transportation in Liverpool is virtually non-existent, and these strikes only serve to further aggravate commuters’ distaste for the city’s buses and trains. One can only hope that a competing company will step in and provide a better service, or else we have many more years of bus delays and cancellations, fare increases and frustrating strikes to endure.