Thursday, 11 January 2007

Bring back our buses

The issue of bus services is becoming more and more acute across the country and in my home city of Edinburgh in particular. Yesterday I managed to secure a debate in the Scottish Parliament about this very issue.
There are links below to the video and transcript of the debate from the Parliament website as well as some articles from the Evening News. I've also included my speaking notes.

Edinburgh Evening News 27th Dec

Edinburgh Evening News 10th Jan

Scottish Parliament Transcript

Scottish Parliament Video

‘BRING BACK OUR BUSES’ [7mins] Wed 10th Jan 2007
Thank members for joining me for this debate which I think raises 3 important issues in particular.
One is the impact that cutting bus services and increasing fares has on public transport provision in Edinburgh and the Lothians,
Second is the role greater public transport provision can play in reducing social exclusion, global warming, pollution levels and road accidents.
And thirdly that free public transport across Scotland is now firmly on the agenda.

I want to start by acknowledging the service that First Bus and LRT especially provide for the people of the Lothians. I stood alongside both sets of drivers on their picket lines last year in support of their pay claim.
I am proud that Edinburgh retains one of the few publicly owned bus companies in the UK.

But both co’s must acknowledge that cuts to vital community bus routes in recent months have damaged their reputation and ability to deliver a universal service;
No 12 Jewell to Portobello cut, No 13 route via Blackhall curtailed,
No 18 to ERI from the Gyle curtailed
[Edinburgh pensioner Irene Paterson gathered 3,500 signatures for her petition keep the service via Hunters Tryst going]
No 20 in West Edinburgh curtailed,
No 38 from North Edinburgh to the ERI curtailed,
No 60 Dumbiedykes into town curtailed,
No 67 Ratho to Wester Hailes cut.
Getting from one part of the city to another without going through centre is increasingly difficult.
Fare Increases
Neither cuts in services nor fare increases lead to greater passenger no’s.
As the South Queensferry Bus Users Group has demonstrated, the £3.60 First Bus fare to Edinburgh, up 44% in 6 months, is not going to encourage more people to leave their car at home or even travel at all.
Only 1 in 3 families in the poorest areas of town has a car.

Likewise the inflation busting fares increases announced by the train operating companies over Christmas again will not encourage people to travel by train. Britain already has the highest fares in Western Europe.
Since 1990 bus fares;70% of all public transport journeys by bus; up 24%

‘Service’ to Communities
Public transport has to be seen as a service, one vital to the economy and to communities they serve - not as a money making industry.
Buses often offer a vital lifeline for vulnerable people and isolated communities with few alternatives to fall back on… cars, taxi’s etc.

Since few routes outside the lucrative mass transit of the big cities make money it is understood that we need to subsidise public transport.
The question is to what extent and to what end? Not to fatten the profits of private bus companies

I applaud South Queensferry Users Group and the Bring Back Our Buses campaign and support their arguments for route development.
I applaud the efforts of those Community Councils who argue that it is necessary our transport system be universally inclusive.

This Debate in wider context
Mrs Thatcher once sneered that if you were still travelling by bus when you were 40 you were a failure. Well the spokeswoman for the ‘Chelsea tractor’ brigade spectacularly failed to understand the issues.
Fortunately others saw it better and passenger numbers are again rising after a decade of decline.
LRT passenger numbers are up 25% in 6 years and they have ordered 42 new buses –with the very latest ‘Euro 4’ low emission diesel engines

Public transport is rightly considered the primary way to reduce traffic volumes, reducing CO2 and NO emissions.
Compared to cars they reduce these emissions / passenger mile by 88%.

Everyone is facing up to public transport being the best option.
I see that all the main parties in the city are now arguing for more money to be put into our bus services;
Labour – Ewan Aitken ‘£1m more for the buses if Labour gets re-elected’ Liberals, SNP and even Tories all agree.

Just as well because Ian Craig, Managing Director of LRT has highlighted the need for more money if the services demanded by the public are to be delivered.

Making Public Transport Free - Affordable to All
The SSP is committed to introduce free public transport for all in Scotland, to provide a better alternative to the car and offers genuine social inclusion - travel for all.

-Executive has introduced free public transport for senior citizens, welcome but many pensioners often don’t have a local bus to get on
- Minister announced on Monday 16-19 year old discounted travel and two free ferry journeys for youngsters on the islands...again quite right.
-Kenny McAskill’s interesting proposal to have everyone travel free on Edinburgh’s buses rather than develop the Tram system
- Euan Robsons call for carers to be allowed to travel free – when with their loved one/client – an eminently sensible idea.
But all too little on their own to make a lasting difference.

Scotland has a higher use of public transport per head than UK, we would therefore benefit proportionately more from free travel.
Those on low incomes rely on public transport far more would save between £400-£500 per month.
But wider benefits still accrue since;
-57% of companies believe traffic jams greatly disrupt their businesses.
- Road accidents cost the Scottish economy £1.4bn annually.
- 4 out of 5 designated Air management Areas failed to meet their targets for reducing air pollution
- Reduce Scotland’s dependence on oil – cars.

Scotland would lead the world in providing free public transport.
It has however been implemented in selective areas already.

Hasselt in Belgium
Town popn: 69,000- with a car ownership of one car per 2.12 residents experiencing dreadful congestion in the 1990’s decided in 2000 to introduce a free fares scheme
-passenger journeys rose 870% and they turned the problem around.
Danish govt. now studying the experience to repeat it there, so too in
Melbourne - supporters of a state wide free travel scheme in Victoria.
Matthew ParrisAbandoned Thatcherite attitude in light of experience ‘I was wrong to oppose Ken Livingstones fares campaign in the 1980’s.’ Cheap fares have to be the way forward.’
Visit Scotland published a report highlighting the case for free public transport for all in Scotland.’ [Tomorrow’s World May 2006]

So How Do we Do it?
First Step is to allow Local authorities to again regulate the bus routes, timetables and fares in consultation with local communities and groups like BBOB’s and South Queensferry Users Group – real democracy in action at the grassroots.
Prior to 1986 bus services were regulated and licensed this way.
Deregulation saw first aggressive price wars over route domination and then cuts to services as the profit motive usurped public service.
Public cross subsidy fosters genuine co-operative development of routes.

Annual transport revenues in Scotland [last years figures] £593m.
+ Set up costs and cost of extra buses, staff etc needed £700m.
Total cost therefore £1.3 billion – yes it is a lot of money, but
i. Surely no-one will now argue money is not there, not after that £25bn Trident announcement!
Ii ‘Doing Nothing is Most expensive option’.- Sir Nicholas Sterns review on impact of global warming.
Iii The cost savings to health service from reduced road accidents and pollution, from business and wider economy savings. Could be offset against this cost.

I believe this approach to be a radical and socially just contribution to the huge issues of poverty, health and climate change now facing us.

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