From Socialist Voice, October 2009

What privatisation really means for commuters

The disparagement of public services became a fashionable topic of conversation in the 1980s when people were waiting at bus stops or for the train. This mantra was trotted out with no expectation of any opposition on principled grounds, so infected with neo-liberalism was public opinion against public transport, influenced by the media and politicians.
     This hostile attitude continues even when the evidence is clear that privatisation has not delivered any improvements but on the contrary has weakened services.
     When public services are improved or actions taken to remedy problems, out come the private operators, resorting to the Competition Act (the imposed legislation of the European Union) to force the public service to give up the service!
     The most recent example of how good this is for the public is the prevention of public buses from using the Port Tunnel. County councillors demanded that this policy be reversed and that it was not acceptable that public transport buses should await the operations of a private operator, Swords Express.
     The Department of Transport denied that it had received an application from Bus Átha Cliath for using the tunnel—anything to delay and obstruct the public service. Commuters in the meantime are forced to take longer routes and so add considerable extra time to their journey.
     Who exactly does this benefit? Do we hear a public outcry? Roads and buses that should be publicly owned are owned by private owners who are milking the public, and the state is prevented from providing a logical solution that benefits the commuter.
     An increasing number of private buses is taking over routes abandoned by Bus Átha Cliath and Bus Éireann as they are forced to allow competition.
     These private operators are not obliged to accept free-travel passes as a condition for being allowed to operate; and where public buses are no longer operating such routes there is no choice of use by people with passes.
     Is this the great freedom of choice that is supposed to bring better services?
     Public services are being eroded bit by bit, and state responsibility to provide a social service to its population is being diluted until soon there will be no right of appeal regarding a service at all.
     At least when there were problems—and indeed there were and are many, because of deliberate underfunding—there was a right to demand a restoration or improvement of services. Try appealing to a private operator for rights to a service and they will say that they have to make a profit or they will stop providing the service, and that social rights do not come into it.

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