Public transport in Glasgow is a joke.
Need to use the Subway on a Sunday? Better travel before 6pm. Need to use the trains? Better have a healthy bank balance. Need to use the bus at night? First Glasgow’s managing director has ludicrously suggested that you take up a part-time job with him and drive the bus yourself.
Much like everything else, public transport in Glasgow seems to have succumbed to the modus operandi of paying more while getting less. That has culminated in the recent news that First Bus has decided to axe its night bus services across Greater Glasgow, a foolhardy decision that should serve as the final nail in the coffin of the idea that the deregulation and privatisation of essential public services – services upon which we all rely – was ever a sensible or sustainable decision.
The tragedy of it is that those on low incomes will suffer most while women and marginalised groups will be put at risk, sacrificed on the altar of private profit. That cannot be right, and bluntly it must be prevented at all costs.
Context is important – because this move comes at a time when Glasgow City Council has hamstrung the city’s taxi trade through the brutal and blunt implementation of a Low Emission Zone despite warnings that there were insufficient finance options available for taxi drivers to upgrade their vehicles. Consequently, much of the out-of-hours transport available in the city has been decimated.
It is even more important when you consider that in Scotland the power to bring buses back under public control by re-regulating regional bus networks already exists and has done since 2019. So, what is stopping that from happening? Put simply, indifference and ineptitude at the heart of the Scottish Government.
The Transport (Scotland) Act was passed through the Scottish Parliament in 2019, and amongst other things, it empowered transport authorities like SPT to create regional bus franchises which would set the routes, timetables, service standards, fares and even the liveries and branding that bus companies must adhere to. There is however one key flaw – the Scottish Government has failed to activate the secondary legislation required to enable it to take effect.
It might be because those provisions were secured by Labour amendments to the Transport Act, amendments which the SNP minority government voted against but were defeated by the combined opposition parties.
In a parliamentary debate just last month, I asked the Scottish Government when they would introduce this secondary legislation and was told: “Further secondary legislation to allow bus franchising and partnership working will be introduced later this year.”
So, four years on from the passing of the legislation, we still do not have the tools in place to utilise it and you, the travelling public, are paying the price for that unforgivable delay.
If we look at other cities across the UK including Edinburgh, Manchester and Liverpool, no such problems exist. In Edinburgh, Lothian Buses has been municipally owned for over 100 years while in Manchester and Liverpool, the Labour Metro Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham have made the reassertion of public control through bus franchising a priority.
These new regional bus franchises will allow them to cap fares and introduce an integrated ticketing system meaning that no matter where you go in the cities you will only pay until you reach the upper limit. In the case of Greater Manchester that upper limit will be set at £5 per day.
In London the situation is similar and Transport for London, publicly owned and under the control of the Mayor of London, has led the world on capped fares and integrated ticketing schemes, developing their contactless payment system in-house and then licencing it globally.
Why do we not have the same ambitions for Glasgow?
Last week we were greeted to the grotesque spectacle of those who masquerade as political leaders in this city being reduced to the tactics of Oliver Twist. Instead of using the heft of their offices to instruct change they hatched a grand plan that saw them write to the leadership of First Bus, in scenes reminiscent of the Parish Workhouse in the Dickens novel where Twist dares ask for more.
It was equal parts embarrassing and revealing, and undoubtedly a far cry from the days of the Strathclyde Regional Council that successfully railed against the Tory plan to privatise water in the city via an unofficial referendum.
The dramatic demise of our public realm and the servility of those responsible for improving it should be a cause for grave concern. National and local governments seem docile when faced with challenges from profiteers and seem bewilderingly unwilling to take the necessary actions that will solicit positive outcomes for their constituents.
Glasgow could have a world-class public transport infrastructure but sadly, despite countless promises, it has never materialised.
We have been subject to a Subway modernisation programme that has been ongoing for over a decade, the Clyde Metro plans remain vague, and despite having the powers to take buses under public control we are still left at the mercy of private enterprise.
For as long as it continues, Glasgow will continue to under-perform economically, our people will continue to be poorly served and our city’s immense potential will continue to be suppressed.
That is a set of circumstances we should refuse to countenance, let alone concede.
You can read my column on the Glasgow times website here: Paul Sweeney: Glasgow could have a world-class public transport system | Glasgow Times