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If Manchester can have publicly-controlled buses, why can’t we?

On 25 March 2021, Greater Manchester made history, becoming the first UK city-region to commit to re-regulating its buses since Margaret Thatcher de-regulated them in 1986.

This will enable them to take back control of their public transport system from the private operators and ensure it is run in the public interest for the long-term. We need Greater Glasgow to be next!

Powers to re-regulate buses in Scotland were created in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. This Act was designed to “provide local authorities with a viable and flexible set of options to help ensure that bus services in their area meet local users’ needs, ensuring that there are sustainable bus networks across Scotland.”

The three options in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 are:

  1. Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPs) or ‘partnerships’ ❌ 👎
  2. Local Services Franchises or ‘re-regulation’ ✅ 👍
  3. Local Transport Authority Bus Services or ‘publicly-owned buses’ ✅ 👍

The main difference between ‘partnerships’ and re-regulation and publicly-owned buses, is that in a ‘partnership’ private operators retain control of the network and continue to run buses to maximise profit for their shareholders. That means more of the same – route cuts and fare hikes for passengers and zero transparency and accountability. Madness seeing 45% of private operators’ income comes from public subsidies!

Whereas, by re-regulating the private bus companies, and setting up a new publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow, we can take back control of the network once and for all. Only then can we ensure that our buses are affordable and actually do “meet local users’ needs”.

Glasgow City Council’s recent public consultation showed that only 16% of respondents were satisfied with our city’s buses under the present privatised system. The key problems people identified were: the high cost of fares, lack of integrated/smart ticketing and failure to deliver a co-ordinated service across transport modes.

As research by Transport for Quality of Life clearly shows, that it is only re-regulation and public ownership that will enable us to properly address these problems and ensure the most efficient use of public money in the future. They write:

“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

Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) are both mid-way through developing their respective Local Transport Strategy and Regional Transport Strategy. We need both of them fully-appraise all three options in the Act so they come to realise just how bad ‘partnerships’ would be.

If London and Manchester can have publicly-controlled buses, why can’t we?