Friday 8 April 2011

On the buses

I’m not sure that it’s always helpful to refer to anything and everything which people get for ‘free’ as a ‘benefit’.  It’s linguistically accurate, of course, in the sense that people benefit from it, but it seems to be confusing – perhaps deliberately in some cases – the issue of benefits for ‘the needy’ with the issue of services provided at no cost at the point of use. 
But I’m inclined to think about the second category as being more a case of ‘collective purchase’ of services; and the reasons for deciding to purchase some services collectively can be much wider than merely the matter of whether the recipients need or deserve the services concerned.
Taking bus passes as an example, not everyone approaches the issue from the same perspective.  I don’t really consider free bus passes as being a ‘benefit’ in the narrow sense.  There are a number of reasons why we might decide to give cheap access to public transport (and ‘free’, in this context, is merely a special case of ‘cheap’) to some or all groups in society, not least the environmental advantages of getting people out of cars and into buses. 
My support for free public transport for pensioners and other groups is not, therefore, based solely on the idea of identifying ‘need’, either at a personal level or at a group level.  Nor is it based on the extent to which such a policy is popular, or even populist. 
Yet populism seems to be the main issue, when it comes down to the way in which the parties present their take on this policy; or rather, populism plus an attempt to hit the right emotional buttons in identifying which groups should receive the ‘benefit’.  It looks as though there is no longer any argument about the principle between the four parties about the question (in Wales, at least – the UK parties may be a different issue); the debate is solely about which groups should benefit. 
I suppose that we should welcome the Tories’ conversion, just as I sort of welcomed the Lib Dems’ conversion to free prescriptions yesterday; but (again, in a parallel with yesterday’s comments) I can’t help wondering if they’ve really changed their minds at all, or simply recognised the unpopularity of their previous position.
I also wonder how important this issue really is in terms of the electoral contest in May.  It no longer tells us very much about underlying values and principles, which means it’s of little real use in distinguishing between parties and their policies.


Anonymous said...

In west Carmarthenshire I know one bus that runs once a week is subsidised to the value of £185 a journey, to Carmarthen and back. Punters still pay nearly a fiver.

Boncath said...

since the invention of the wheel we have been obsessed with the speed of personnal transportation and have conveniently chosen to neglect the costs involved.
Anon does not say how many travelled on his bus or where it went but if you use the Tenby to Carmarthen bus on a Wednesday it is invariably full and people are known to drive to pickup points further away from Carmarthen to be sure that they can use the facilty as the bus will not take standing passengers
The train offers a better service but is not used as the fare structure is regarded as complex and too expensive
Bus fares seem to equate with the fuel costs of a jouney on the assumption that you travel alone
If you work on the basis of seven miles to the litre at £1.40 per litre you will not be far out
But dont forget your car is designed for motorway use and as the Daily Mail tells us you can escape all fines and penalty points along as you keep under 86 miles per hour which makes rail and free bus travel seem rather out dated