‘Amateurish’ transport policy blamed for bus crisis
McGill’s management blames government for the crisis
Bus owners and passengers are victims of the Scottish government’s ‘amateurish’ approach to transport policy, according to those behind the country’s biggest independent operator.
James and Sandy Easdale, who own McGill’s Bus Group, have accused ministers of unfairly favouring rail over buses for subsidies even though most users of public transport choose bus travel.
Company chairman James Easdale said: “The bus industry is now having its own crisis and I lay the responsibility firmly at the door of the Government in Holyrood.
“I put this down to the lack of joined up thinking in Scottish transport matters and to the absence of business experience in Holyrood. We really can’t go on with this amateurish approach to vital services for our citizens.”
His brother Sandy added:” It’s when you look at the insane economics of Scotrail, now owned by the government, that you realise there is a severe lack of joined up thinking. Seven quid for a rail trip from Glasgow to Edinburgh is economic madness and remember it’s the taxpayer who is really footing the bill for that.
“Each bus journey is supported to the tune of 27p by the Scottish government whilst train passengers enjoy support of £3.27 for every trip.
“This all adds up to £55m support for bus users and £1.5 billion support for rail passengers. You would be forgiven for thinking that rail then must be the main mode of public transport in Scotland…it is not. 75% of public transport journeys are made on bus whilst only 20% are made on train.
“If you are unlucky enough to pay a fare on a bus, you get an outrageously bad deal whilst the reverse is very true on train with fares subsidised to the hilt.”
McGill’s chief executive Ralph Roberts, who is also President of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, added: “If you have a quality or low volume operation, you are penalised. If you try to reduce single fares to give fare payers a better deal, your concessionary revenue also gets cut.
“The bus operator invariably takes the blame for all of this, but the system is a product of decades of policy decisions.”
Responding, Minister for Transport Kevin Stewart said: “We’ve been engaging with industry through our Bus Taskforce and have been clear that the support provided to transport operators needs to evolve to ensure it remains fit for purpose and is sustainable in the long term.
“We are aware of the importance of bus services and are committed, in conjunction with operators and local authorities, to improving services to ensure everyone has accessible public transport regardless of geographic location.
“There is a broad package of long-term investment in bus, including through the Network Support Grant, Community Bus Fund, and for bus priority infrastructure, together with the enhanced suite of options for local transport authorities to improve bus services according to their local needs, including formal partnerships, franchising and running their own bus services.
“The Scotland-wide free bus travel schemes for Young People and for Older and Disabled people support a much larger percentage of the population than schemes elsewhere in the UK, providing free bus travel for over 2 million people.
“More than a third of the population, over 2.3 million people, including everyone under 22 and over 60, and disabled people and companions, can benefit from free bus travel. The range of concessionary travel schemes in Scotland does not exist in any other part of the U.K.
“The Scottish Government is also progressing the Fair Fares Review to ensure a sustainable and integrated approach to public transport fares that supports the long-term viability of our public transport system as we recover from the pandemic.”
On rail, he said: “The Scottish Government has brought ScotRail into public ownership to ensure that ScotRail focuses its delivery on the needs of Scottish passengers. It is important that ScotRail plays its part in delivering the Scottish Government’s ambitions for its success and that includes attracting passengers back to rail.
Investment: Queen Street station (pic: Terry Murden)
“Since 2007, we have invested over £11bn on rail infrastructure, including on refurbishment of Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Haymarket stations, and £1bn in the last 10 years to electrify 441 kilometres of track.
“Since 2009 we have reconnected 15 communities to the rail network. In the next 2 years, new stations at East Linton, Cameron Bridge & Leven will open, reconnecting those communities to our rail network.
“In the current five year rail funding period (2019-2024), the Scottish Government has allocated £4.85bn to maintain and enhance Scotland’s railway, including on-going electrification and decarbonisation through our Rail Services Decarbonisation Plan.
“All of this is contributing towards our ambitious Net Zero targets.”