John Harris

Journalist & Author

We’re ignoring the crisis of our most democratic public transport: buses

Bus travel in London may be in rude health, but across the country Tory cuts have led to a massacre of routes and services – leaving thousands of low-income passengers isolated

Tuscany, Schmuscany. On Sunday I got back from a week’s holiday in Whitby, the North Yorkshire fishing port whose craggy streets and cosy harbour give it the feel of a redoubt from the modern world. Among the best bits of our family trip was a day’s walking, book-ended by journeys on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a lovingly maintained steam line that runs from Whitby to the market town of Pickering, and was used in the first Harry Potter film. It took us 45 minutes to travel less than 10 miles, but that was kind of the point: time slowed down, and the whole experience took on a beautifully dreamy quality.

The NYMR is a great thing, but it also points up one of postwar Britain’s greatest tragedies. The line on which the steam trains run was a victim of the Beeching axe, the great hacking-down of the UK rail network that resulted in the closure of over 2,000 stations and the loss of nearly 70,000 jobs. As of 1965, Beeching also ensured that Whitby lost its rail link to nearby Scarborough, and was left with only a snail’s-pace line to Middlesbrough. Fifty years on, with the town reinvented as a modern tourist destination, the lack of train services looks like an embodiment of the serial stupidities of transport policy, not least when you’ve been locked into long queues on the roads that ferry people there from the motorway.

The bus remains the most democratic form of transport (no first class here), and does things that trains simply cannot

Related: How Beeching got it wrong about Britain’s railways

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