The Bus Project addresses Living Well with Difference. The research question is how we can use arts-led methods to investigate and challenge bus fares and transport policies in Bristol. The project was prompted by a statement in October 2017 by twelve year old Mia from Room 13, presenting at a Child Friendly Cities Event at the Festival of Ideas, who noted that she, like many of her friends, is rarely able to come to the city centre as her family do not own a car (on average, without major repair costs, a car costs about £1000 a year to run).
Hareclive Primary is four miles on foot from the centre of Bristol. A return paper bus ticket for two parents and two children costs about £18. While the 76 bus from Hareclive Road runs frequently into the city centre, bus fares are calculated by distance travelled so that residents living on a city’s perimeter pay more in bus fares than residents living nearer centre. Children under 15 are entitled to a 50% discount on fares, 16-21 year olds to a 30% discount. The 76 bus is run by FirstBus, a subsidiary of FirstGroup, a FTSE 250 listed company, operating throughout the UK and North America, with £5.7billion a year in revenue (FirstGroup, 2017).
Asking whether such bus policies are just, this project will draw on interdisciplinary work in “spatial justice” (Soja, 2010), sharing with the children at Room 13 comparable interventions including the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles (1994-2006) and the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott, demonstrating that while struggles can be hard and lengthy, we can have “buses for justice”. The children will collect some data from each other – and, if possible, at home - to gain an understanding about the scale (or not) of spatial exclusion. This data will be supplemented by desktop and interview research on buses in Bristol collected by Antonia Layard.
2018 will be the 50th Anniversary of Henri Lefebvre’s book Droit de la Ville (Right to the City) where he developed the right as a “demand...[for] a transformed and renewed access to urban life”. Physical access to cities is one component of this right, engagement activities by museums and cultural institutions, free events and city festivals count for little if residents on urban peripheries cannot afford to get there. Developing this spatial justice draws on work in community mobilisation, since developing “a right to change ourselves by changing the city … [which is] a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization” (Harvey, 2008).
Engagement matters particularly for children and excluded communities. In Bristol City Council’s 2017 consultation for subsides for supported bus route subsidies, only 1% of respondents were under 15, while over 70% of respondents were already users of subsidised services. These subsidies do not include buses to Hartcliffe, even though, for example, 65% of children living in ‘Fulford Road North’ in Hartcliffe ward, are affected by income deprivation (Bristol City Council, 2015).