Buses going into the night

29 July 2012
This is an article I penned for Vantage Newspaper around the time of the last Students' Union AGM, but to my knowledge never got published. Apart from a bit of anti-NUS bias it is politically neutral, at least by my usual standards, but still manages to capture what I consider to be some of the biggest problems with both the Union and Bristol students in general.
These days I try to avoid the detail of student politics, but one motion that caught my eye was the Night Bus motion. Of course it had many of the ingredients of a stereotypical union motion (affordability being the main one), but this one was more than just a typical left-wing pipe dream. This motion is one that, perhaps unknown to the proposers, has a long history behind it: In the past the Union actually had a night bus, and scrapping this bus service easily ranks as one of the worst decisions the union has ever made.

From sometime in the 1990's (possibly earlier) until 2006, there was Studentlink. Studentlink was a shuttle service between the halls and the Union, and it was a flat £1 fare. It was far from flawless, and in its last years there were issues with how it was run (if I remember correctly, the contractor went bust), but for those up at Stoke Bishop it was the only thing saving them from a trip across doggingville downs. However since the bus's terminus was the union, it de-facto made the union a popular meeting-up place. The union did not have a late licence until 2005, yet the (now demolished) Epi Bar would routinely have more people in it on a week-day than today's Bar Loo has on a Friday.

There was a year when the airport flyer was extended up to Stoke Bishop, but at £5 return (among other problems) it flopped. Sharing a taxi was cheaper, and because of the way taxis charge, students simply went straight into the centre. It does not take Dirac to realise that a few years of Stoke Bishop first years never really going to the union is a recipe for long-term decline. The union made other mess-ups along the line, but these pale into insignificance compared to the inevitable decline associated with diversions in student travel. At one point in a union presidential hustings it was asked whether the union should pull out of the NUS and use the then £47,000 per-annum affiliation fee savings to bring back Studentlink.

Wessex Connect now run a bus between campus and the halls, but unlike at UWE (for first years) it is not free, and it does not run late. A night bus is logical, but this is a battle that has long been lost. It is one of many things that the Union once did, and seeing current students lobby for it shows how much things have come full circle. Discussion has historically been too much focused on what the union could do, whereas what was really needed was focus on what the union was doing. Before long even Union Building will be a thing of the past, and I much fear for what students of 2019 would consider OK.