‘A great step forward’: Campaigners welcome move to let councils set up bus services

The Scottish Parliament has voted to allow local authorities to run their own bus services, a reform which Green MSP John Finnie says “will transform public transport provision across the country”

  • Amendments from Scottish Labour and the Scottish Government allow councils to run bus services and set up arm’s-length bus companies
  • Move marks the end of Thatcher-era legislation, which tied the hands of local authorities on public transport
  • Campaigners express hopes that the new reform can help fight transport inequality and reduce climate emissions

CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed the empowerment of local councils to set up their own bus services in competition with private operators, following the successful passage of two amendments of the Transport Bill this morning [12 June].

Passed by Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee during Stage 2 of the Transport Bill, the first amendment – tabled by Scottish Labour – will allow every council to run bus services. The second, put forward by the Scottish Government, will empower councils to set up arm’s-length bus companies similar to Edinburgh’s Lothian Buses.

Taken together, the successful reform marks a repudiation of public transport legislation laid out during the government of Margaret Thatcher, which forbade local councils from running most routes.

READ MORE: As Holyrood debates parking levy, campaigners press for public owned buses as alternative to driving

Following the release of statistics this week showing that transport remains the largest emitting sector for climate emissions, with road traffic the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the move has been welcomed by environmental campaigners.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson said: “This is a great step forward for public transport in Scotland.

“Private bus operators have failed in many areas of the country, leaving us with declining bus passenger numbers, ever-increasing fares, and a fragmented network that serves company greed rather than community needs. Giving councils the powers to run their own buses allows us to re-imagine what our public transport should look like.

READ MORE: Majority of Scots back public ownership of bus services, new poll finds

Thomson continued: “This is just the first step. Councils will need support and funding in order to deliver the much-needed improvements in our transport system. Scotland currently spends billions on new roads every year, favouring car drivers but only making tiny gains in journey times. Public cash for pointless new roads should be diverted to public transport, to help councils set up comprehensive, affordable networks that can benefit everyone.”

“By increasing bus use we can cut air pollution and congestion, reduce climate emissions, and make our towns and cities better places to spend time. We hope councils will look carefully at these new powers and work with Government to boost bus routes and passenger numbers in their areas.

Glasgow transport activists also welcomed the amendments’ successful passage. Get Glasgow Moving campaigner Ellie Harrison said: “There is huge inequality in Scotland’s bus network. In Edinburgh, where publicly-owned Lothian Buses run most of the routes, fares are just £1.70, they’re introducing an electric fleet and passenger numbers are increasing.

“Meanwhile in Glasgow, where private companies cherry-pick their favoured routes, fares are £2.40 and passenger numbers are falling dramatically.

“Empowering councils to run their own services is a significant step which I believe will lead to better services for bus users across the country.” Green MSP John Finnie

“This is a huge chance to get the public transport system that passengers want. A publicly-owned bus company for Glasgow could start taking over routes one-by-one, and use profits from busy routes to reinstate essential bus services axed by First and Stagecoach.”

“Buses are vital public services, which provide both social and environmental goods. They are not a 'market' and should not 'compete' with trains, Subway, trams or other forms of sustainable transport. These new powers are fantastic and now we need the investment to follow, that would provide a comprehensive, integrated network so that everyone can get where they need to go easily and cheaply and with the lowest environmental impact."

John Finnie MSP, the Scottish Greens’ transport spokesperson, added: “I’m delighted we’ve finally ditched Thatcher’s ridiculous bus laws. Empowering councils to run their own services is a significant step which I believe will lead to better services for bus users across the country.

“Three quarters of public transport journeys are made by bus, yet the number of journeys has been falling year on year as services were reduced and routes slashed.

“Over the past year my better buses campaign has collected testimony from hundreds of bus users across the country who are crying out for cleaner, affordable and more reliable services. Today I believe we’ve taken a step toward delivering that.”

Picture courtesy of V267 ESX

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