We have heard plenty about rail services in recent weeks. Yet the vast majority of people, here in the North-east depend on buses for public transport. That is true across Scotland, where there are five times as many bus journeys as those by train.
Given this, it seems astonishing that almost 10 times as much Scottish Government funding goes to rail services than to buses, at the same time as we have seen bus services reduced, and bus fares rise. Our communities are not well served by the existing deregulated bus market put in place in the eighties.
I have spoke to a number of people who were delighted to receive their free bus pass only to find out that there was no bus to use it on, as the operator had withdrawn or not provided a route as they felt it wouldn’t make them enough profit.
That is why this week I signed my colleague Iain Gray MSP’s Bus Regulation (Scotland) Bill.
This will give local councils new powers, if they choose to use them, to exercise some control over routes, timetables and fare increases.
At the moment local authorities have no say at all over the busiest, “commercial” routes. These are run by private companies, who can choose how and when buses will run and what fares they will charge.
They can change or withdraw services subject only to giving some notice. Councils can subsidise routes, but only where the companies declare them “uncommercial”.
Iain’s Bill will allow councils to package commercial and uncommercial routes together and franchise them in a “Quality Contract.” This will finally give communities some say in the services they depend on.
Previous attempts to improve bus legislation failed because no other Party would support Labour in taking action. This time Iain has enough cross party support for the Bill to proceed.
With an SNP majority though, we need the Scottish Government to listen, see sense and support passengers by supporting the Bill.
The best bus services in Britain are in London. That is because deregulation was never introduced there.
If it is good enough for London it is good enough for us here in the North-east.