Former bus conductor MSP harps back to SBG days & criticises First’s closure of its East Lothian operation
East Lothian’s MSP Iain Gray has announced his intention to bring a Private Members Bill to the Scottish Parliament to strengthen regulation of the bus industry.
The Bill will give local authorities the power to “bundle” profitable and loss making (but socially desirable) routes together, to be tendered in a Quality Contract or franchise.
These contracts would include a framework to specify routes, timetables, fares and vehicle quality. They would also allow the performance of bus companies to be more directly monitored.
This move follows on from a previous attempt by former MSP Charlie Gordon to legislate, which fell because Labour was the sole party willing to support the measure.
Mr Gray’s decision to pursue this issue was also informed by what he calls “last year’s local bus crisis, when First withdrew several vital local services at very short notice leaving several large communities at risk of having no bus service at all”.
Iain Gray said: “Bus journeys have decreased in recent years, but they are by far the commonest means of public transport in Scotland with many more journeys by bus than by rail.
“Yet successive SNP governments have given little attention or support to Scotland’s buses, cutting government funding of bus routes and continuing to invest more money in rail journeys. As a result we have seen services reduced or even withdrawn across Scotland, and inflation-busting fare increases imposed on passengers.
“East Lothian has been one of the hardest hit, with First simply withdrawing from most of their routes in the county last year and making hundreds of bus workers redundant. The groundswell of local anger about that decision helped convince me that Parliament must look again at this matter.
“The deregulated, free market in bus services has not served my constituents well, delivering expensive and unreliable services, or none at all for many communities.
“Previous Labour administrations introduced the power to use Quality Bus Partnerships (QBP) or Quality Bus Contracts (QBC). However, no local authority has ever used the QBC legislation, although there is one QBP in Renfrew, which has been a great success.
“It is time to accept that the existing legislation has not worked, and put it right so that bus passengers throughout Scotland can expect a decent, regular, affordable bus service.”
Mr Gray continued: “Many years ago I worked as a bus conductor on routes through East Lothian. These were the best, most profitable routes in the publicly owned Scottish Bus Group.
“Privatisation and deregulation have reduced them to little more than a skeleton service, with many villages excluded altogether. Doing nothing will simply allow this slow, steady decline to continue, until we have no buses at all.
“I am hoping problems like those in East Lothian will finally have convinced other parties that we have to act, and that they will support my Bill so that we can get it to Parliament and change the law.”
He added the first stage of the legislative process will be a consultation on the detail of the Bill, in the first half of 2013.
Giving the industry’s reaction, Paul White, Communications Manager for CPT Scotland, told CBW: “Further regulation and Quality Contracts are not the panacea Scottish Labour continues to believe they are. Quality Contracts transfer the financial risk of local bus networks to local taxpayers. They can also potentially result in higher fares and reduced services.
“Recent DfT statistics show that commercial mileage across Scotland has remained stable since 2010 while local authority supported bus mileage had dropped by over 10%. How does Labour propose cash strapped authorities pay for the fares reductions and increased services that they laudably wish to deliver?
“Iain Gray states the Statutory Quality Partnership (SQP) in Renfrew is a ‘great success’. Other SQPs are currently being formulated across Scotland and in other parts of the UK. Labour would be better served by supporting bus operators and local authorities in using their collective resources to make practical improvements which benefit passengers rather than criticising the industry through what appear to be uncosted and impractical proposals.”
Visit Iain Gray MSP’s website at www.iaingraymsp.co.uk