Colin Smyth MSP
Colin Smyth MSP

South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy & Transport & Rural Affairs Colin Smyth has once again demanded answers from the Scottish Government on when local authority bus companies will become a reality.

The local MSP asked the Transport Minister a supplementary question on the issue during a question on reducing emissions from ministerial vehicles.

Speaking in parliament, Colin Smyth said: “While ministers benefit from Government cars, hard-pressed commuters are facing the prospect of a new tax on going to work.

“Does the minister agree that the best way to reduce emissions, whether from Government cars or commuters, is to back alternatives to car dependency, such as having buses under public control and a restoration of pre-pandemic rail services?”

In 2019 the Scottish Parliament passed a new Transport Act that gives councils a range of new powers when it comes to bus services. This will include the right to directly deliver bus services thanks to amendments made to the legislation by Colin Smyth lifting the ban on councils running bus routes Labour councillors are developing proposals for a publicly run bus service. The historic law change secured by the local MSP means councils will have the power to run bus services directly or through setting up arms-length municipal bus companies with either model free to compete for any service or franchise.

Currently the only publicly owned municipal bus company in Scotland is Lothian Buses, whose existence pre-dates deregulation. However, in Strathclyde, which includes Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire, Labour councillors are developing plans for a new publicly run Strathclyde bus service. In Dumfries and Galloway, the council have also agreed to develop a new model for public transport which will include an increased role for community transport and publicly owned bus services provided by the council, once the powers are passed on by the Scottish Government.

Speaking after the session, Colin Smyth added: “While we all understand that the pandemic has delayed many policies, the Government can’t use it as an excuse forever.

“In recent years we have seen the bus network being dismantled route by route, fares have risen and passenger numbers plummeted, because big private bus firms have put profit before passengers.

“These cuts have been felt most by our rural communities but have also affected everyone trying to travel at nights and weekends when often there are no buses running anymore.

“After 35 years of deregulation, the bus network is in decline and strong, empowered local government can transform services for the better.

“However, if we are serious about tackling climate change, it’s not just about buses, we need our rail services back to pre-pandemic levels.”

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