A good piece from Kevin Maguire in today's Mirror:
"Bullying bus boss Brian Souter is a road block who needs bypassing to give passengers a better ride. The megabucks Stagecoach motormouth drives hard on the Thatcherite Right and is chucking his toys out of the pram over plans to impose order on routes in Tyne and Wear.
Souter, who together with his sister is worth an estimated £730million (the pair are 118th on the Britain and Ireland Rich List), claims he would rather “take poison” than swallow bold plans to control fares and routes in the public interest, therefore reducing how much he profits from travellers.
Grim threats to shut depots and sack crews, hysterically denouncing councillors as “unreconstructed Stalinists”, is the crazed reaction of a bus bandit behaving as wildly as the greedy energy fatcats who menacingly predict power cuts unless they’re allowed to continue ripping off customers.
Souter’s ticket to El Dorado is paid by northerners on his buses who he scathingly mocked as the “beer-drinking, chip-eating, council house-dwelling, old Labour-voting masses”.
Only time will tell if the tycoon is prepared to cut off his nose to spite his face. But I hope the five councils of Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland and South and North Tyneside don’t buckle under Souter’s legal threats. I hope they stick to their guns and use their transport arm Nexus to restore order to the costly cowboy free market created by privatisation and deregulation a quarter of a century ago.
Ever since a public transport free-for-all was given the green light by Thatcher, bus fares have soared across the country and companies have cherry-picked routes, running them for huge profits instead of public services.
In Newcastle, Stagecoach ran the number 18 all day, seven days a week until 2010, then it scrapped evenings and Sundays because it wasn’t making money – forcing Nexus to subsidise Arriva to take over off-peak hours so Byker and Walker in the city’s deprived east end weren’t abandoned.
In the national chaos, the great British bus success is a London which Thatcher exempted from her deregulation fatwa – so city hall chiefs continue to set fares and routes. Passenger numbers have almost doubled in the capital over a period when, I’m told by experts, they’ve fallen 19% in rural areas and plummeted an average of 45% across conurbations such as Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Midlands, a built-up area of Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear.
I travel regularly on buses in London and occasionally in North East England and I can assure you buses are better in the Big Smoke. And if a Souter predicting bus Armageddon thinks that Tory Mayor Boris Johnson is an “unreconstructed Stalinist” too, then that’s the belly-aching multimillionaire’s problem.
Public vs private
The bus battle playing out in the North East is a microcosm of the wider debate about public services and the national economy, of the value of regulation and public ownership. Privatisation and deregulation works for loaded Souter and energy fatcats. But we need to build an economy and a country for the masses who pay the bills."