Attack on deregulation
Leonard pledges free bus travel for all under Labour
Richard Leonard: ‘deregulation has failed us’ (pic: Terry Murden)
A Scottish Labour government would extend free bus travel to under 25s, with a long term goal of universal free bus travel.
Labour leader Richard Leonard, who made the pledge during his party’s Scottish Conference, said it would help reverse the decline in passenger numbers and re-connect communities.
Mr Leonard’s comments follow recent research showing Scots are increasingly turning to their cars in spite of campaigns encouraging greater use of public transport.
Over the past five years road, air, rail and ferry traffic have increased while bus passengers and cycle traffic have seen a decrease.
The latest data from Transport Scotland showed five million fewer bus journeys last year, a fall of 1.5% and 42 million fewer than five years ago, a fall of 7.6%.
“Across the country, the number of routes has gone down while the cost of fares has gone up,” Mr Leonard told delegates in Dundee.
“Communities, particularly in rural areas, have been left stranded. The deregulation of bus services has failed us. Fleet sizes are down. Staff numbers are down. Journeys are down. Down by ten per cent in the last five years alone.
“But today, to those communities that have seen their much-needed routes removed, I say that Scottish Labour has an answer. We believe that clean, affordable and reliable bus services are the mark of a civilised nation.
“So when the Transport Bill arrives in Holyrood later this year we will fight to change the law to put our bus services back in public hands.
“That way we can run them, not for profit, not to line the pockets of shareholders, but to give the public a service that we will all benefit from.
“It will allow us to standardise fares throughout Scotland and ultimately, my aim, of providing a universal public service.
“I believe that free bus travel for the over 60s has been one of the finest achievements of the Scottish parliament, a Labour achievement.
“And it is one that I want to see everyone benefit from. It has tackled isolation. It has created opportunities. It has given people a better quality of life.
“And it makes a difference to the economy. Because every £1 spent on concessionary bus travel generates almost £3 in benefits to those bus users and to the wider economy. Which is why I say today, the Scottish Labour Government that I lead will not only end the failure of deregulation, we will deliver the success of free bus travel for all.
“And to jumpstart our bus services again, I am today calling for an extension of the free bus pass to all under 25s within the lifetime of this parliament.
“And if the SNP won’t do it, we will do it on day one of an incoming Scottish Labour government. But then we will go further. We will build a proper bus network that connects Scotland’s communities.
“From that collective strength and that commitment to being a truly public service, we will shift the balance from shareholder profit to public investment. So Labour will build a free bus network to serve the whole of Scotland.”