Jon Molyneux: ‘SPT should be bolder in its plan for buses’

webnexttech | Jon Molyneux: 'SPT should be bolder in its plan for buses'

Bus services are vital for connecting people to jobs, to friends and family, and to new opportunities. The humble bus can also be a key weapon in our fight against climate change and help car-choked streets become places where people want to spend time. Sadly though, our bus network has seen years of decline. Fewer people are using the bus, there are fewer services, journey times have lengthened and costs keep going up. The pandemic was a body blow and – despite initiatives like the Scottish Greens’ free bus travel for the under 22s being a huge success – it’s clear that more must be done to protect and strengthen the role buses have in our public transport mix. Franchising is an opportunity to help turn these fortunes around. It will give SPT the power to control routes, pricing, ticketing, accessibility and to join up journeys with other forms of public transport. It’s not the only thing that’s needed. The bus operators rightly want action to speed up journeys as this will help bring costs down. Nevertheless, the plans for franchising have been widely welcomed across political parties and I expect that will be reinforced through the current public consultation, which runs until May 13. However, Greens would like SPT to be bolder. There are three things we think it should do differently. First, it should ditch the halfway house of a Bus Service Improvement Partnership, which it wants until a franchise can launch. This will waste time and money which would be better spent fast-tracking franchising. It’s also baffling that SPT would keep having cosy chats with the same private operators who are threatening to sue it to every court in the land. Secondly, it should plan a bigger role for municipal-owned services. The current proposals only see public operators stepping in when private firms won’t bid for routes. This lacks ambition. A municipal operator should aspire to bid for profitable services too. Look at Lothian Buses, which returned more than £3 million last year to the councils which own it. Lastly, we need a joined-up plan for investment, not a stand-off over who pays. The cost of developing a franchise is estimated at £15 million over five to seven years and the ongoing subsidy needed at between £45m and £85m a year. National governments should get behind these plans. There’s a spare £64m in the Glasgow City Region Deal, from the scrapping of previous airport rail link plans, which could easily pay for franchising and key bus corridors. Councils could also raise funds through local workplace parking levies and congestion charges – tools which would also make buses a more attractive option for people, both cost wise and by cutting journey times. Bus franchising and public ownership are huge opportunities for our region. SPT must be bold and seize them with both hands.

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