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Our Climate: Our Buses

Press Release: Scotland-wide campaign for better buses launched

Get Glasgow Moving are delighted to be helping launch the STUC’s new ‘Our Climate: Our Buses’ campaign, demanding that Transport Scotland provide funding and support to transport authorities so they can use the new powers for public ownership and control of bus services available in the Transport Act 2019.

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STUC Press Release:
Scotland-wide campaign for better buses launched

Anti-poverty groups, environmentalists, and trade unions have joined forces to launch a new Scotland-wide campaign for better buses.

Led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the ‘Our Climate: Our Buses’ campaign is calling for an extension of municipal bus ownership across Scotland. The campaign is supported by unions such as Unite the Union who represent bus workers, as well as by Trades Councils across Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Engender, Common Weal, Get Glasgow Moving, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, One Parent Families Scotland, and the Young Women’s Movement.

Official figures show that bus fares have soared and passenger numbers have slumped since Scotland’s buses were deregulated by Margaret Thatcher’s government more than 30 years ago. The current system allows private bus companies to cut routes and raise fares, with no regard for the communities that rely on them.

  • Fares have risen by 160% since 1995 and by 19% in the five years to 2019/20. Even when inflation is accounted for, fares have risen by 58% since 1995.
  • Not surprisingly, the number of passenger journeys taken every year has slumped – by a whopping 278 million. While there were 644 million passenger journeys in 1986-87, this fell by 43% to 366 million in 2019-20. In the five years to 2019/20 alone there was a 12% drop in journeys.
  • Besides passenger fares, the bus industry received £326 million in funding from local or central government in 2019-20. This accounts for 49% of all revenue – up from 44% in 2013/14.
  • 10% of public subsidy is estimated to leak out of the industry in dividends to private company shareholders.
  • Transport is Scotland’s largest single source of greenhouse gas and has seen no progress in reducing emissions in the past 30 years.
  • Across Scotland, 28% of households don’t have access to a car. This rises to 32% in Aberdeen, 39% in Dundee, 41% in Edinburgh and 47% in Glasgow.

The Scottish Government are currently consulting on how buses should be run and the STUC are calling for the Scottish Government to provide financial support to Local Authorities to establish publicly owned bus services. Glasgow and North Lanarkshire have previously passed motions in favour of exploring public ownership while Aberdeen is investigating it. Campaigners point to the success of Lothian Buses, the largest publicly owned bus company in the UK, to highlight that a different model is possible.

In a recent report, Philip Alston, former UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, stated that “Voluntary partnerships between bus companies and local transport authorities are a failed middle ground that should be phased out in favour of public control and ownership.”

In England, high profile campaigns have led to Andy Burnham committing to bus re-regulation in Greater Manchester and Tracy Brabin promising to do the same in West Yorkshire. Campaigners say that if Scotland continues along the predominant ‘partnership’ route with private bus operators, communities in Scotland risk being left behind.

The STUC have also written to all 32 Local Authorities in Scotland asking them to support the campaign and to call for Scottish Government financial support for setting up municipal bus companies. The campaign has already won the support of North Ayrshire Council as well as political parties.

An online action has been set up to encourage people to respond to the Scottish Government consultation on how buses should be run.

Roz Foyer, General Secretary, STUC, said:

“Buses are crucial to tackling climate change, reducing social isolation and boosting local economies. But Scotland’s buses are not up to scratch. Rather than lining the pockets of shareholders, we need to take back control of our buses so they are run by the people for the people.”

Joe Cullinane, Leader, North Ayrshire Council, said:

“Leaving bus services to be run in the interests of private bus company profits rather than the interests of people has let down communities in North Ayrshire for years.

“The Scottish Government is spending vast amounts of public money subsidising the profits of those bus companies whilst allowing them to cut vital bus services with no regard for the communities who rely on them. That’s why North Ayrshire Council wants to intervene in the bus market through municipally owned bus services run for people not profit. However, for this to happen, we need financial support from the Scottish Government.”

Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour Spokesperson on Net Zero, Energy and Transport, said:

“Delivering a publicly owned bus service should form part of the legacy of COP26. Privatisation and deregulation have left communities around Scotland with bus services that are expensive, unreliable and fragmented.

“Greater public ownership and control over buses will deliver better outcomes for people and planet, instead of services being axed and profits leaking out of communities at the expense of those facing the greatest disadvantage.

“Scottish Labour fully supports the STUC’s ‘Our Climate: Our Buses’ campaign. Unless SNP ministers start listening and change course, we will be stuck with a broken bus market. The time for bold climate action and ambitious system change is now.”

Lorna Slater, Scottish Greens co-leader and Lothian MSP, said:

“Public transport is an absolutely fundamental part of tackling Scotland’s climate emissions, and the Scottish Greens are clear bus services should serve communities not shareholders. Lothian Buses have shown how publicly-owned services can also innovate when it comes to decarbonising fleets too, so this campaign is necessary and timely given UN climate scientists have shown the time to act is now.”

Peter Kelly, Director, Poverty Alliance, said:

“In the just and compassionate society we all want to live in, our public services should help secure a decent life for everyone. Yet our transport system is too often tightening rather than loosening the grip of poverty on people’s lives. Our bus services, in particular, are unaffordable, inadequate and inaccessible for too many, and it is clear that the deregulated market is not meeting the needs of people on low incomes.

“Public ownership of bus services would allow us to re-design the way they are delivered – for example by expanding free travel for people on low incomes – so that they work for everyone. By designing and delivering the services for the common good, we can ensure that they support everyone to participate in and benefit from a more just and greener Scotland.”

Gavin Thomson, Transport Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:

“Public ownership of our public transport is both popular and necessary. Transport is Scotland’s biggest source of climate emissions, so transforming how we move is vital to moving away from polluting fossil fuels. We’re unlikely to meet any climate targets, set by councils or the Scottish Government, without bus services that are run for passengers instead of profit.

“Publicly owned buses means profits will be reinvested in the network, improving services to ensure they take people where they need to go. The current system is not working for passengers or the climate. The recent report from the UN climate scientists showed how urgently we need to phase out fossil fuels.”

Alys Mumford, Communications and Engagement Manager, Engender, said:

“Public transport is a feminist issue, as women’s lives continue to be impacted by systems designed by, and for, men. Despite women being more likely than men to utilise public transport, the design of routes and vehicles often ignores women’s needs while also being prohibitively expensive. We need our buses to reflect the diverse needs and experiences of people in Scotland, including sensible routes and pricing to enable trip-chaining, such as a nursery run before work, improved access which doesn’t pit buggies against wheelchairs, and bus stops which are safe and comfortable. Better buses will improve women’s lives in Scotland, increase participation in public life, and help deliver climate justice, and so Engender is delighted to be supporting this campaign.”

Craig Dalzell, Head of Policy, Common Weal, said:

“The recent IPCC report has laid bare the extent to which we must change our ways to avert the climate emergency and that we must take these drastic actions immediately. It is also clear that these changes must be made in a Just and Fair way. Simply replacing fossil fuel vehicles with electric vehicles will decarbonise our roads but leave us with other significant problems of pollution, congestion and accessibility. Reform of public transport is essential and will only be possible and affordable with substantial public ownership of the sector. Common Weal endorses this proposal to launch a network of public owned buses and calls for the Scottish Government and Local Authorities to back and enact this plan immediately.”

Dougie Maguire, Lead Passenger Officer, Unite the Union, said:

“Whether you rely on a bus service, would love to be able to travel to work or for leisure by bus or work in the bus industry the goal should be the same: a truly integrated transport network covering all areas of Scotland, contributing to emission reductions while delivering vital public services and improving opportunities for all and particularly those communities and citizens cut off from public transport or unable to afford to travel.

“Nearly 30 years of deregulation has failed and in reality the continual reliance on the public purse for private profit will only continue to prioritise lucrative routes rather that deliver for communities. Another 30 years of the same model is the reality if we do not support and win the battle for public control of our bus services.”

Ellie Harrison, Get Glasgow Moving, said:

“It’s about time the Scottish Government’s shameful bus policy got the scrutiny it deserves. Their ill-conceived ‘Bus Partnership Fund’ is currently forcing cash-strapped Local Authorities into so-called ‘Bus Service Improvement Partnerships’ (BSIPs) with private operators, which could lock us into this broken privatised system for years to come. Instead, we need Transport Scotland to provide each region with the funding and support necessary to use the new powers in the Transport Act to re-regulate their bus network and set up a new publicly-owned bus company. This is the only way we can deliver the huge step-change to our public transport system that we urgently need.”