McGill’s considers replacing lost city night buses
McGill’s Buses is looking at introducing night buses to Glasgow in a direct challenge to FirstGroup which has controversially withdrawn the service.
The decision to pull 11 night service routes from the end of this month follows persistently low passenger numbers and revenue losses but has been criticised for putting the city’s night time economy and workers at risk.
Duncan Cameron, managing director of the firm, said First would be prepared to train night time economy workers and give them flexible hours in a show of willingness to make retaining the services possible.
Greenock-based McGill’s has now stepped in and said that it was keen to ensure public transport provision in Scotland’s biggest city remained available at night, while admitting the service had to be financially viable.
Ralph Roberts, CEO at McGill’s Group, said: “McGill’s Group is going to examine options for providing a night bus service to Glasgow and see if we can establish a long-term plan that would be viable.
“We are only at an initial stage of looking at what may be achievable. The First Glasgow services that are being terminated are extensive and we cannot say at this stage that a like-for-like replacement will be feasible.
“That said, we know there is a level of demand for night-time bus services and if Glasgow is to thrive as a city, it needs companies such as McGill’s together with city leaders to see what we can achieve.”
McGill’s is the UK’s largest independent bus operator ands is owned by billionaire brothers Sandy and James Easdale.
Sandy Easdale said: “We have invested in a state-of-the-art fleet for McGill’s Group to serve Glasgow and James and I have also invested personally in the city.
“We want Glasgow to be successful and it needs to be successful. If people stop coming into the city at night to support the entertainment and leisure industry, they might just stop coming during the day as well. That would be a disaster for the local economy.”
His brother, added: “Bus provision in Glasgow is operated through a commercial marketplace and when there is movement, such as has happened this week, the opportunity can be attractive to another organisation such as McGill’s Group.
“Trains and subway in Glasgow are both under public control and are simply not serving the needs of the night-time economy either. There is an opportunity for buses to fill that huge gap and that’s why we’re keen to see what is possible.”
First Glasgow said it made the decision following a review of passenger numbers over the past year, which revealed that buses were regularly operating with as few as 14 customers per hour.
The services cover travel from the city centre across Glasgow and the surrounding areas, including Clydebank, Paisley, Newton Mearns, East Kilbride, Hamilton, Motherwell and Wishaw.
The late-night network was reintroduced last June to support the city’s night-time economy following the COVID pandemic.
Despite “significant efforts” to promote the services, including offering free tickets in December last year, passenger numbers remained between 30-35%.
Graeme Macfarlan, commercial director at First Bus Scotland, said: “Despite a wide variety of efforts by First Glasgow and partner organisations to increase the number of people using the night buses, it has not reached the level required to sustain these services beyond July.
“To do so, we would require the number of people using them each weekend to treble overnight, which is not realistic.
“We really wanted to give these services every chance to succeed which is why we have absorbed the operating losses for the last 12 months.
“It has become clear, however, given the change in behaviour and times people are going out in the city at the weekend, there is not enough appetite in Glasgow for night bus services to successfully operate into the early hours.”