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We must control public transport to cut emissions

We need your help before 24 January

When Glasgow City Council declared a ‘climate emergency’ back in May 2019, a Working Group was set-up to determine what the Council must do to rapidly reduce emissions. Get Glasgow Moving was asked to put forward proposals for improving public transport.

The Working Group made 61 recommendations to the Council including our proposals for greater public ownership and control of our public transport network in order to deliver a fully-integrated and affordable service, and the ambition to transition to free public transport for all.

The Council has now reviewed the recommendations and put together a Climate Emergency Implementation Plan, which is now out for consultation.

Despite public transport being the number 1 issue for local people during the last consultation in 2019, all our recommendations have either been watered down or outright rejected.

This is outrageous! Transport is our biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Council is trying to tackle a ‘climate emergency’ while refusing to make any meaningful changes to our public transport.

The Climate Emergency Implementation Plan consultation ends on 24 January 2021. We have submitted the response below, but we also need all Get Glasgow Moving supporters to act!

Take the Survey

It’s a lengthy survey but you don’t need to answer every question. You can skip through to the most important section. It should only take you 5 mins to complete, if you follow this guidance:

For Question 13 – ‘What actions, if any are missing from the Well Connected and Thriving City theme?’ – you might want to answer with a version of this:

The Council must take a much more active role in the city’s transport system, to stand any chance of sufficiently reducing emissions. This must include regulating the city region’s bus network to deliver an integrated service (buses, trains and Subway working together) and bring down the cost of fares.

Ultimately our goal must be to work towards free public transport for the whole city region, to enable everyone to get around in a sustainable way. Regulating our bus network (through ‘franchising’) is the best way to get there.

The ‘partnership’ with the private bus companies that the Council is currently pursuing will lead to more of the same. More over-priced routes with unreliable services, more forced car ownership, and more emissions.

It’s essential that the Council reinstates the Climate Emergency Working Group’s recommendations:

Recommendation 17 “investigate the use of the ‘franchising powers’ set out in the Transport Bill to regulate the city’s bus network on the principles of one network, one timetable, and one ticket”

Recommendation 20 “engage with interested local authorities and other stakeholders and undertake a formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use”

Recommendation 19 “The Council works with partner local authorities to consider the opportunity presented by First Glasgow being up for sale and for the business case to be explored, including the financial viability of re-municipalisation”

Although First Glasgow is no longer up for sale, they have received millions of pounds in bailouts during the pandemic. This must be seized as an opportunity to ‘buy out, not bail out‘ these companies, so they can be run in the public interest again.

Take the Survey

Get Glasgow Moving’s Response

Dear Sustainable Glasgow team,

CC: Climate Emergency Working Group members

Please accept this as Get Glasgow Moving’s response to your consultation on the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan.

We are a volunteer-run campaign founded in 2016 to demand a world-class, fully-integrated & accessible, publicly-owned & accountable, public transport network for Greater Glasgow. We now have more than 11,000 supporters across the region with more than one hundred individual members and affiliates, from community groups to trade unions.


On 24 January 2019, we were invited to present our petition (then signed by more than 10,000 people) to the Council’s Wellbeing, Empowerment, Community & Citizen Engagement City Policy Committee. As a result, George Gillespie, the Executive Director of Neighbourhoods & Sustainability was instructed by the Committee to “engag[e] with the Get Glasgow Moving group and facilitate its participation… regarding the Council’s development of its transport policy”.

This resulted in us being invited to join the Climate Emergency Working Group (CEWG) in May 2019, where we contributed our proposals for transforming our current incoherent and overpriced public transport network into a world-class, fully-integrated and affordable system to the standard of most other European cities where public transport is publicly-planned and controlled. We particularly highlighted the public transport system in Munich City Region as a great example for Glasgow to follow. Their system is co-ordinated to the principle “one network, one timetable, one ticket” in order to deliver a seamless service across all transport modes: their underground, trams and buses.

We also recommended that Glasgow set the ambition of working towards a completely free regional public transport network, in order to deliver the rapid increase in public transport use that will be necessary to de-carbonise transport by 2030. This is a policy which is now in place in more than 100 forward-thinking towns and cities across the world, including Tallinn in Estonia, Calais in France and Kansas City in the US.

Alongside our demand for Greater Glasgow to set-up its own publicly-owned bus company to deliver a comprehensive and popular service like Edinburgh’s Lothian Buses (based on the opportunity to buy back First Glasgow’s business which was then up for sale), our proposals were translated into the following Recommendations made by the CEWG:

Recommendation 17 “investigate the use of the ‘franchising powers’ set out in the Transport Bill to regulate the city’s bus network on the principles of one network, one timetable, and one ticket”

Recommendation 20 “engage with interested local authorities and other stakeholders and undertake a formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use”

Recommendation 19 “The Council works with partner local authorities to consider the opportunity presented by First Glasgow being up for sale and for the business case to be explored, including the financial viability of re-municipalisation”

Our Response to the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan

We completely support the ambition of the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP) for Glasgow to become carbon neutral by 2030; to become “one of the most sustainable cities in Europe” (p.6), and to build a “just and more equal city” (p.7). These are the reasons why Get Glasgow Moving was established. The CEIP calls for “major transformative action” (p.6), yet unfortunately, what it proposes in terms of actions on transport will never deliver the radical transformation that we need.

The CEIP claims that emissions from transport have decreased in Glasgow between 2005-2017 (p.9), yet no evidence is provided. Officers could not back up this claim when asked for evidence at the ‘Climate Conversation’ event on 13 January 2021. It certainly does not tally with the Scotland-wide picture – which shows that transport produces by far the greatest greenhouse gas emissions of all sectors of the economy, and is the only sector which has continued to increase its emissions since the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

It was for this reason that improving public transport was a central focus of the CEWG’s Recommendations, which were approved by Glasgow City Council on 26 September 2019. Yet the CEIP barely mentions public transport at all. Despite the fact that public transport was the number 1 issue for local people during the last public consultation on the ‘climate emergency’ in 2019, all the CEWG’s Recommendations on transport have either been watered down or outright rejected. This is completely unacceptable.

Instead of the Recommendations detailed above, the CEIP says: “These issues will be explored through… ongoing work on Bus Service Improvement Partnerships, as required by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 and Transport Scotland funding programmes.” (p.60)

Firstly, we need to point out that this statement is factually incorrect. Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPs) are not “required” by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. In fact, in a recent letter from Transport Scotland, we were told that “Regardless of whether a local transport authority chooses to bid for the BPF [Bus Partnership Fund] we still expect them to explore all the options provided by the Act [emphasis added] when looking to improve services in their area, be it further partnership working, local franchising, or running their own buses alongside existing options including the ability to subsidise services.”

Secondly, the evidence is clear that a ‘partnership’ with private bus companies will never be capable of delivering the fully-integrated and affordable service that we urgently need to move people around the region in an efficient and sustainable way. We have already had ‘partnerships’ in Scotland for two decades and they have persistently failed passengers. The Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee, who scrutinised the Transport Bill as it progressed through the Scottish Parliament, could see no meaningful difference between BSIPs and the then current provision (Quality Bus Partnerships). As Transport for Quality of Life clearly show in their report Building a World-Class Bus System for Britain:

“No partnership model – no matter how it is framed – can achieve the transformative change that is needed: it cannot enable a local authority to plan and deliver a comprehensive area-wide bus network; cannot enable creation of a single easy-to-understand fares structure; cannot allow timetables and services to be coordinated; cannot guarantee network stability and easy-to-find comprehensive information; and cannot enable costs of concessionary fares payments to be brought under control.” p.12

The only way to deliver a world-class, fully-integrated public transport network for Greater Glasgow is by seizing the new powers in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 to re-regulate the bus network, through a region-wide ‘franchising’ framework, and to set up a publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow.

If the Council enters into a BSIP without “exploring all the options provided in the Act” – as is implied by the actions in the CEIP – then this will simply maintain the status quo, where private bus companies are permitted to pick and choose which routes they run based on where they can make most profit. Where there is no coordinated planning with other transport modes, there is no integrated smart ticketing and zero regulation on fares – the poorest in our society, who don’t own cars, will continue being exploited the most.

If the Council enters into a BSIP, then not only will this be against the will of local people, it will also fly in the face of the SNP 2017 Manifesto, and the Council’s Strategic Plan (priority 57), as well as the CEWG Recommendations outlined above, which all recommend either using ‘franchising’ powers or re-municipalising bus services. Even the Council’s Connectivity Commission recommended that if the current bus partnership continues to perform poorly “on bus patronage compared with other UK cities, the Commission’s firm view is the powers in the new Scottish Transport Bill should be deployed to regulate the bus network.” (p.18)

Other similar UK cities, such as Manchester and Liverpool, have carried out extensive investigations into all the powers now available to them (just partnerships and franchising under the Bus Services Act 2017 in England). Both have concluded that only re-regulating their entire bus networks through region-wide franchising frameworks will deliver the comprehensive, fully-integrated and affordable networks their regions need. South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire also look set to follow suit. If Glasgow fails to seize the opportunity now offered by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, then it will fall even further behind these English cities in terms of health inequalities and will never meet its climate targets. As the CEIP itself acknowledges “the city council… can, strictly speaking, only act on those things over which it has direct control” (p.7), yet this vital opportunity to take direct control of its most polluting sector appears to have been overlooked.

The CEIP also claims that its actions align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – particularly highlighting ‘no poverty’ and ‘reduced inequality’ as issues being addressed. Yet, in terms of transport this is clearly untrue. By rejecting the Recommendations of the CEWG in favour of developing a BSIP, the plan contravenes the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights advice. Following his visit to all parts of the UK in 2018, Philip Alston wrote in his report to the UN General Assembly:

“… isolation and inability to afford basic transport had serious negative consequences in terms of access to jobs, schools, health care and community engagement. Local authorities have often simply abandoned their responsibilities [emphasis added] by relegating key services to the private sector and failing to take any regulatory measures to ensure basic service provision. Abandoning people to the private market in relation to services that affect every dimension of their basic well-being, without guaranteeing their access to minimum standards, is incompatible with human rights requirements.” p.11

Summary of our demands

To conclude and summarise our demands to the Sustainable Glasgow team:

  1. Provide evidence for the reduction in transport emissions and correct the factually incorrect claims highlighted above (the claim that a BSIP is “required” by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 and that the proposed action will address poverty, and reduce inequality).
  2. Reinstate the Recommendations of the CEWG (highlighted above) and put these at the heart of the “major transformative action” of our public transport network that is necessary in less than a decade. These actions must be based on the recommendations of Transport for Quality of Life’s 2019 report A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, and must include working at a regional level with SPT to:
    • re-regulate the region’s existing private bus companies under ‘franchising’ so we can properly plan the network to re-connect communities left stranded by cuts from private bus companies, and impose an immediate cap on fares.
    • set up a publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow to start taking over routes. This will provide a better service and ensure public money is not being extracted from the system as private profit.
    • use revenue-raising powers available (namely the Workplace Parking Levy) at a regional level to increase funding for improving and expanding the public transport network. New taxes on car travel will only be politically-acceptable and just if a reliable, efficient and affordable public transport network is already in place – ideally this should be provided free at the point of use.

These actions must be clearly stated in the Council’s Local Transport Strategy and SPT’s Regional Transport Strategy and in other local/regional authority policy documents, as the first step towards being able to fully-utilise the new powers in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 for the benefit of our region’s people, and our climate. Demonstrating an intent to use these powers will also help put pressure on Transport Scotland to develop and publish the Act’s guidance/secondary legislation, which is now long overdue.

We look forward to further assisting the Council with the “development of its transport policy”, and to seeing these essential changes to the CEIP implemented immediately.

Yours sincerely,

Ellie, Gavin, Susan, Brenda, Calum, Miles, Neil, David, Dylan and Mike
Get Glasgow Moving Committee