Transport bill is an ‘opportunity missed’

Unions and campaigners have been disappointed after the transport bill published placed extremely strict restrictions on public ownership of the buses.

Councils would only be able to step in where private operators feel they would be unable to turn a profit. This is despite the fact that Lothian Buses - Scotland’s only municipally run bus service - is consistently rated the highest for passenger satisfaction, not just in Scotland but across the UK.

Dougie Maguire, Unite Regional Coordinating officer said:

"Unfortunately, this is an opportunity missed. It is difficult to see how the proposals to shake up Scotland’s bus services can be advanced or indeed how the Transport Minister proposes to halt the decline in passenger numbers with this legislation."

"The continued use of citizens’ money to provide profits for private companies will not increase passenger numbers or ensure that public transport services are available to all. There is only one way to revitalise the passenger industry in Scotland and that is to legislate to ensure that public funds are used to put people before profit."

Questions have also been raised about the influence of lobbying by Scotland’s private bus companies. As we revealed last week, the Managing Director of Stagecoach met with Humza Yousaf in March, telling him that the ‘Lothian model’ was a ‘one-off’, and that politicians need to be ‘educated’ on bus finances. That ‘education’ seems to have done its work.

Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Connectivity and Transport Colin Smyth said:

“Under the SNP government bus fares have soared but passenger numbers have plummeted as bus services have been dismantled route by route.

“This bill was a chance to deliver real change on our buses and start to reverse the SNP’s decade of decline but instead it is a huge missed opportunity.

“We know the SNP prefer private to public ownership when it comes to our railways, now we know it is the same on our bus routes.

“Under the SNP’s plans, public ownership of bus routes can only happen in very restricted circumstances. This would leave local councils picking up the pieces, running the very few loss-making routes whilst transport tycoons line their pockets on the rest of the bus network.

“This SNP bill would leave public control of our buses by the roadside. Brian Souter and company will be rubbing their hands at this.

“Labour will now put forward a series of amendments to change the bill. We will safeguard the free bus pass for older people, improve concessionary travel for young people and allow local authorities to deliver a people’s bus service where passengers, not profits are the priority.”

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