"Why not a publicly run bus network?": Campaigners and unions call for transport reform ahead of Holyrood debate

Following price hikes, MSP Ross Greer argues that public transport “should not be run for the sake of maximising the profits for a few private companies”

THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT will debate the possibility of re-regulating bus services in Scotland to protect customers from ongoing hikes in the price of fares.

Taking place on the evening of 31 January, the debate will be led by Scottish Green MSP for the West of Scotland Ross Greer, who has criticised bus companies McGill’s and First Group for their rising fares and alterations of service, arguing that they make public transportation increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible for students, children and those on low incomes.

Earlier in January, First Glasgow announced that fares for under-16s would rise by more than 40 per cent, while unemployed passengers also saw their ticket prices increase by 10 per cent, leading to concerns that signing on for benefits would be made more difficult for those reliant on public transport. Single adult tickets on First Glasgow routes have risen by more than 15 per cent overall.

Meanwhile, McGill's has ceased its student all-day tickets, meaning students travelling up to three days a week between most of Renfrewshire and Glasgow for their education will see their costs rise by almost £5 per week.

"The Scottish Government has an opportunity with the forthcoming Transport Bill to re-regulate buses and ensure that services are affordable and accessible to everyone.” Green MSP Ross Greer

Speaking ahead of the debate, Ross Greer said: “These latest price hikes, on top of cancelled and reduced services, show just how unaffordable and inaccessible buses are becoming. This is not a luxury – public transport is a public service and should not be run for the sake of maximising the profits of a few private companies.

"McGill's money-grabbing decision to penalise students across the West of Scotland is an outrage, given how reliant many students are on buses to get them to college, university or part-time jobs.

"The Scottish Government has an opportunity with the forthcoming Transport Bill to re-regulate buses and ensure that services are affordable and accessible to everyone. I look forward to the Transport Minister's response at the end of my debate on Wednesday."

Responding to news of the proposed debate, First Glasgow Managing Director Andrew Jarvis said: “We are modernising our overall ticket offer with a huge expansion of mobile tickets as well as switching on contactless payments across all services in December. The rule of thumb for customers is to switch to mTickets if you haven’t already done so as that is the way to beat the price increases on most of our tickets.

“The unaccompanied child day ticket at £2.10 was replaced by a cheaper child day ticket at £2 or even cheaper at £1.50 on a mobile, whilst weekly kids tickets were also frozen or reduced on mobile. Some family tickets were frozen as well as others reduced, as the Company’s range of products evolves to a changing market.” 

“Whilst we object to the misleading nature of the motion, we welcome the opportunity for a debate on bus services in the parliament.” McGill’s spokesperson

A spokesperson for McGill’s also told CommonSpace: “McGill’s notes with disappointment the poorly researched motion being put forward in the debating chamber at Holyrood. We have sent a briefing note to all MSPs to make them aware of the facts so that an informed debate can take place.

“Whilst we object to the misleading nature of the motion, we welcome the opportunity for a debate on bus services in the parliament – the bus using public deserve the attention of their MSPs, because is it those MSPs who are in control of 80 per cent of the reasons for the changes taking place”.

Following the announcement of the First Group price hike earlier this month, campaigners have called for Glasgow City Council and other local authorities representing areas reliant upon the bus services – which collectively make up Strathclyde Partnership for Transport – to transfer public transportation to public ownership, as is the case with Lothian Buses in Edinburgh, which provides significantly cheaper fares.

Speaking to the Herald newspaper, Get Glasgow Moving campaigner Ellie Harrison said: “Glasgow is already being held to ransom by private bus companies and this latest rise only makes it worse. It is totally unacceptable.

“The Scottish Government must act to challenge this injustice and help provide affordable public transport to help people participate fully in society.”

"In the short-term the Scottish Government must regulate fares to make them affordable, and in the long-term it must have a plan to bring buses back into public ownership." Common Weal Head of Policy Ben Wray

Harrison’s sentiments were echoed Ben Wray, Head of Policy for the Scottish think tank Common Weal, who told CommonSpace: “Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has said he would like to have a publicly-run rail network. If that's true, then why not a publicly run bus network too?

“Like on the railways, bus companies are in effect a monopoly as they face no genuine competition, with many bus users having no alternative transport option to get to work or to access public services. This captive market means bus users have little option but to swallow extortionate fare rises, eating into already shrinking household budgets for food, electricity and housing costs. 

"In the short-term the Scottish Government must regulate fares to make them affordable, and in the long-term it must have a plan to bring buses back into public ownership."

However, according to the Herald, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf stated in September during a public consultation on local bus services that he believes the problem is “not who owns the buses”.

READ MORE: Public transport revolution? Scot Gov for council bus control as ministers prepare rail bid

Regarding the cessation of McGill’s student all-day tickets, Elena Semple, NUS Scotland Vice President (Communities) told CommonSpace: “With many students dependent on public transport to get them to college or university, it’s concerning to see students facing fare hikes and removal of vital services.

“Bus services should not be exploited by private companies to maximise their profits. Instead they should be looking to form partnerships with local communities to make sure any changes implemented are to the benefit of the public and not at the detriment.

“It’s also vital that, as well as looking at the amount of financial support available to students, we look at how we can manage the spiralling costs that they face.”

“We hope the Scottish Government listens to the people that say it's time to put people before profit and reregulate the bus service.” Unite Scotland spokesperson

A spokesperson for Unite Scotland, which represents many workers in the public transport sector and has launched a petition for the regulation of bus services with the Scottish Government, told CommonSpace: “Unite Scotland has campaigned vigorously for the re-regulation of buses in Scotland. In 2016 we launched the Haud the Bus campaign to tackle the cut to local services across Scotland. While successfully campaigning to protect some routes, this was just a plaster over the problem of deregulated bus services.

“Unite recently responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on local bus services in Scotland where we made it clear that reregulation was the best way to halt the withdrawal of services, increase passenger numbers, increase not reduce routes, improve services, lower fares and through local authority control, deliver a value for money sustainable and integrated transport system across Scotland.

“With the recent hikes in bus fares across Scotland we hope the Scottish Government listens to the people that say it's time to put people before profit and reregulate the bus service.”

Picture courtesy of Paul Robertson

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