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Putting Free Buses Back on the Agenda

Help put free buses back on the agenda

In September 2019, Glasgow City Council agreed to make a “formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use”, by backing recommendations made by its Climate Emergency Working Group. However, this pledge has now disappeared from their draft Climate Emergency Implementation Plan.

Please join the Free Our City coalition to help put free buses back on the agenda!

On Thursday 25 March 2021, 7pm, we’ve invited Councillors to take part in this public hearing on their Climate Emergency Implementation Plan, to answer the questions raised in Free Our City’s Response (below).

We’ll be hearing testimony from representatives of many local groups, organisations and Community Councils on the problems they encounter with Glasgow’s public transport, and the transformative impact making it fare-free would have.

We’ll be asking all Councillors to back Free Our City’s demand for a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network that is free at the point of use. View a recording of the event here:

Attending Councillors include:

Councillor Anna Richardson (SNP)
Councillor Eva Murray (Labour)
Councillor Jon Molyneux (Green)

Register for Event

Free Our City’s Response to the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan

Dear Sustainable Glasgow team,

Please accept this as Free Our City’s response to your consultation on the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan.

Founded in September 2020, Free Our City is a new coalition of community organisations, local trade unions and environmental groups, campaigning for a world-class, fully-integrated public transport network which is free and the point of use.

Free public transport is already in place in hundreds of forward-thinking towns and cities across the world from Tallinn in Estonia, Calais in France and Kansas City in the US – where this policy is rightly seen as the only realistic way of addressing persistent poverty and inequalities and tackling the climate emergency with the urgency that we need.

The Free Our City coalition’s aim is to bring these brilliant examples from around the world to Glasgow, to raise our city’s ambitions (please read our manifesto). We were inspired by the Recommendations of the Climate Emergency Working Group (CEWG), which were approved by Glasgow City Council on 26 September 2019. These included the commitment to:

“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 20)

As well as the commitments to investigate the new powers available in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 – for re-regulating buses using ‘franchising’ and for greater public ownership – as the most efficient and affordable way to deliver a fully-integrated public transport network, with the potential to become fare-free (Recommendations 17 and 19).

Responding to the launch of Free Our City in September 2020, a spokesperson for Glasgow City Council acknowledged that without utilising these new powers, free public transport would not be “viable”. They said:

“At the very least, it would require public ownership – the alternative being taxpayers write a blank cheque for private operators, with little say in the service.” Quoted in The Herald, 6 September 2020

Further to this, on 29 October 2020, Glasgow City Council approved a motion “welcoming” the Free Our City campaign (see full text below). We therefore fully-expected the CEWG’s Recommendations on public transport to be at the heart of the “major transformative action” proposed by the Council’s Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP).

Unfortunately, the CEIP’s proposed actions on transport lack any ambition. Instead of the CEWG’s Recommendations to fully-utilise the new powers available in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, the CEIP has opted to ‘explore these issues’ through:

“ongoing work on Bus Service Improvement Partnerships, as required by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 and Transport Scotland funding programmes.” (p.60)

Firstly, it is untrue that Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPs) are “required” by the Transport Act: BSIPs are just one of several options now available to local authorities, and they are the one least likely to deliver the changes we need. Despite the excellent Recommendations of the CEWG, and previous commitments made in the Council’s Strategic Plan (Priority 57), the Council appears to be actively choosing the option to “write a blank cheque for private operators, with little say in the service”.

Nowhere in the CEIP is there any indication of the need to regulate and reduce bus fares, when it is obvious that this is what is necessary to “tackle persistent issues of poverty and deprivation in the city” (p.12) and build a “just and more equal city” (p.7), and to encourage those accustomed to driving to give up their cars. Fare reductions on the scale that we need are just not possible through the ‘partnership’ model, as private operators will never voluntarily agree to anything that threatens their shareholders’ profit.

Why should Glasgow’s poorest people be faced with single bus fares of £2.50 on privatised First Glasgow, when fares in Edinburgh are only £1.80 on publicly-owned Lothian Buses, and fares in London are only £1.50 on buses regulated by Transport for London? And when people in Kansas City, Tallinn, Calais, Dunkirk and many other places can travel around their local areas for free?

We fundamentally reject the CEIP’s proposed actions on transport. Instead we demand that the Council works with SPT to deliver the following actions that are the route map to the free public transport that we need:

  1. Re-regulate the region’s buses using new ‘franchising’ powers – plan the network properly to reach isolated communities and to integrate seamlessly with other transport modes (trains and Subway). Impose an immediate cap on fares.
  2. Set-up a new publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow and start taking over routes one-by-one, or buy-out First Glasgow.
  3. Once costs have been brought under control, we can begin to roll out free fares for all (we currently give more than £300 million in public subsidies to private bus companies annually in Scotland and deregulation and privatisation is a really inefficient way of using this).

Unless the Council actually commits to the “major transformative action” necessary to sort out our incoherent and overpriced public transport network – learning from the best examples from towns and cities around the world – then the ambition to become “one of the most sustainable cities in Europe” (p.6) is just laughable.

We look forward to hearing the outcomes of the consultation and to seeing the Council act to deliver a public transport network which works in the interests of our city’s people and our environment.

Best wishes,

Free Our City

Motion 7 (d)
As approved by Full Council on 29 October 2020

“Council reaffirms its belief in the importance of an ecologically and economically sustainable, integrated multi-modal public transport network which is safe, accessible and affordable to serve the needs of people across this and nearby regional authorities.

Council notes the worsening climate emergency, as well as the need for a green recovery from the current pandemic, which together underpin the need for effective, collective action on transport.

Council welcomes fresh ideas and momentum, such as the Free Our City campaign for free transport. Council notes Scottish Government’s work on active travel and Transport Scotland’s live consultation towards delivering a commitment to the Scottish Greens’ proposal for a national scheme for free bus travel for under 19s. Council agrees that options to extend this should be explored for viability including legislating to extend this to under 25s in the lifetime of the next Parliament.

Council reaffirms its wish to work collectively on a cross party basis on public transport issues and looks forward to work done by its members, committees and affiliated bodies in consultation with the public to find solutions to improve transport for Glasgow’s citizens.

Council agrees that in order to achieve better integration and delivery of this essential public service as well as to deliver any ambitious new public transport projects, whether directly or in tandem with private or third sector operators,

  • Transport Authorities must be enabled with powers to dynamically control the public transport network, and
  • government must agree with Transport Authorities mechanisms for sustainable revenue funding, including a full exploration of the funding mechanisms proposed by the Glasgow Connectivity Commission.

Council agrees to write to Scottish Ministers asking them to engage with the Transport Authorities to give effect to these recommendations.”