Owen Jones And The Crazy Idea Of Uber Replacing Buses


Owen Jones tells us that the idea of Uber-style services replacing buses is just crazy – simply nonsensical even to think about it. Which is odd really, as it seems rather sensible. Not necessarily that Uber themselves run the system although they do indeed seem to run transport services rather well. But the very idea that people might prefer an on demand and point to point service rather than a fixed route and fixed timing one just seems absurd to our class warrior.

Odd really:

And while he absurdly suggested that buses could soon be replaced by Uber-style services, cuts of 45% have been made to supported bus routes since 2010 and fares raised at rates beyond inflation.

Well, why have bus fares risen faster than inflation? Presumably because bus services are something expensive to provide. Thus it seems sensible enough that we have a look around for cheaper ways of providing what it is that we want, transport services. And it could well be that Uber or the like will be cheaper.

For example, a bus costs about £200,000. Something we can just about run Uber in costs perhaps £20,000.

On the most basic level Boris’ sums just don’t add up. The first 600 new Routemasters cost TfL £212.7m, that’s £354,500 per bus, the next 200 cost £69.9m a slight discount at £349,500 per bus. But look at the cost of an equivalent double decker bus and it all becomes a bit murky. A conventional double-decker costs £190,000 to build, almost half the cost of the New Routemaster.

OK, a bus is £200k then. We can also look at operating costs per mile:

Operating costs for local bus services in Great Britain (outside
London) have increased by 16 per cent in real terms since
2004/05; the cost per vehicle mile has increased by 20 per cent
over the same period (from 239 pence to 286 pence).

£3 a mile? We’re really very certain that we can run an Uber for less than that.

Now, obviously enough, a bus can take many more people than an Uber. We can amortise those costs over many more journeys. But, again obviously enough, only if the bus actually carries more people than the Uber. And on lightly travelled routes that’s not going to be true, is it? On heavily so it will. Thus we can work out whether Uber should – or might, or economically could – replace buses. On well used routes the bus wins, on little travelled the Uber does. And the ridiculousness of this is what?

At which point we discover some part of what is wrong with Owen Jones. He just doesn’t think, does he?