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Rebecca Menzies

To get cars off the road we need better public transport

Our campaigner, Rebecca Menzies, wrote an Opinion Piece for The Herald on how improved public transport can help tackle the Climate Emergency.

“Glasgow is a world-class city and it deserves a world-class public transport network.

On Tuesday this paper reported that satisfaction with public transport is at its lowest since 2007 with only 65% of Scots ‘very or fairly satisfied’.

On the other hand, car ownership and single-occupant car journeys are on the rise.

Faced with a Climate Emergency we can’t let these trends continue. Our public transport system needs an urgent radical change to get people out of cars and onto more sustainable methods of travel.

Transport was the single biggest issue in the responses to Glasgow City Council’s Climate Emergency survey.

Glaswegians are fed up. They want a rapid transition to a city with a high quality, affordable low-emissions public transport network that’s under the city’s control and where walking and cycling are the norm.

There have been steps in the right direction. Glasgow has begun The Avenues project, along Sauchiehall Street creating space for walking and cycling and the Council are investigating taking First Glasgow back into public ownership.

But cars still have free rein over much of the city. Ideas like pedestrian-only zones, segregated cycle lanes and properly-enforced bus lanes will create the transport hierarchy we need to reduce emissions.

Public transport can transform communities. It can help unlock people from poverty, tackle social isolation and limit our impact on the climate.

For this to happen we need collaboration, not competition.

This is not possible in the current privatised system. While the private sector relies on competition and profits to survive, people rely on public services.

They rely on public transport to get them to work, to drop their kids off at school, to the local supermarket, the hospital and visit friends and family.

These are basic rights that every person should be able to access. But our current public transport network is putting profit before people.

Buses make up the majority of transport journeys but Glasgow’s bus network is failing its people. Private operators make it difficult to navigate, operating on different timetables, fares and tickets. Congestion is often cited as the biggest and only reason for the decline in bus patronage but that is not what we hear from bus users.

It is also fare increases, lack of integration with other modes and the sheer number of cuts and reductions to vital routes that are leaving people isolated or forcing people into car ownership that they can’t afford. This is allowed to happen because passengers have no effective way to hold companies to account.

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 that have been axed. By increasing passenger numbers and reducing car journeys, congestion and air quality would be improved.

To tackle the climate emergency we need a clean bus fleet. However, last year when the Government offered bus companies public money to clean up their buses, they stubbornly refused it because it wasn’t enough. Glaswegians are now breathing in more air pollution than they should, as our health is hostage to private bus operators yet again. This money could have been used more effectively if our buses were under public-control.

That is why we want to see councils use the new powers in the Transport Bill regulate our bus network, make it accountable and working on the principle of one network, one timetable, one ticket. The first step in creating our integrated and easy to use bus network will be for the council and partner local authorities to bring First Glasgow into public ownership.

But we need to go further than buses. The entire network needs to be linked-up, connecting buses with trains and the subway, operating on one timetable that reflects the times people actually travel and with one easy to use affordable ticket. Glasgow could have its own London-style ‘Oyster Card’ that is compatible across the transport network and capped at an affordable daily fare but there’s a lack of willingness by operators to cooperate and national government to legislate for these much needed transformative changes.

In Dunkirk and Luxembourg, public transport has been made entirely free and this has dramatically increased the numbers of passengers and reduced levels of car ownership. If Glasgow wants to be a leader in climate justice, it must consider doing the same.

Glasgow must do more to make our public transport system accessible to everyone. It is not good enough that only two subway stations are wheelchair accessible with many train stations completely inaccessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessibility also restricts parents travelling with buggies, many of whom are single mothers who rely on public transport. We need physical and digital accessibility so that our buses, trains and subways are safe for everyone to use.

If we really want to significantly reduce emissions we need to take cars off the road. This will only happen if we operate a regular, comfortable, low-cost, accessible service that convinces drivers that buses are the better option and they can leave their car at home. We have tried the market model. It has comprehensively failed. We need public ownership and accountability.”