Anyone who’s tried to get home from the centre of Glasgow late at night will know what it’s like. There’s a shortage of taxis, the subway shuts early, there are new restrictions on which cars can come into town, and, to make matters worse, First Bus has announced it plans to withdraw its weekend night-time services. Is it any wonder some people think twice before going into the centre of Glasgow at night?

First Bus claim they have no choice: they say passenger numbers on late-night buses can be as low as 14 an hour, and that the numbers would have to treble to make the services viable. The firm’s commercial director Graeme Macfarlan said that despite a variety of efforts to increase the number using the buses, it had not reached the level required to sustain the services.

The potential consequences of the decision are clear: the 11 routes in question cover a large area, including Paisley, East Kilbride, and Wishaw and, while the number using them may be low at times, many of the passengers are doing late-night shifts and rely on the buses to get to and from their work. A group of SNP MSPs, including Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon, said in a letter to First Bus that it was no over-statement that the late-night bus was a lifeline to many in Glasgow and the surrounding areas.

The MSPs have a point. It’s also worth noting that the late-night network was reintroduced last June to help the night-time economy following the pandemic and that First Bus received millions of public money during the crisis. Perhaps if managing director Duncan Cameron had been thinking a little more about the support his company received from the taxpayer he would not have suggested that bar workers could be trained to drive the buses at the end of their shift. It was a crass and tone-deaf thing to say.

But equally, when Mr Yousaf and Ms Sturgeon were signing the letter to Mr Cameron, perhaps they could have asked themselves what more they could have done to support the provision of better public transport in Glasgow. ScotRail services to and from the city have been cut. A Low Emission Zone has been introduced which, although it will hopefully reduce pollution, arguably penalises people doing shift work. And there is a subway system that closes early and can’t even be relied on by people attending big concerts and events. Is this really the kind of service that’s needed for a modern, grown-up city?

The central problem is that not only can a private firm such as First Bus make a unilateral decision to cut vital services, the city also lacks a transport policy that is designed to work for residents, workers, and businesses. The hospitality sector depends on people being able to get to and from its pubs, restaurants, theatres, and other venues, but a lack of reliable late-night transport also has worrying implications for the safety of young women seeking to get home after a night-out. It is particularly ludicrous that in Scotland’s biggest city on a Sunday the subway closes at 6pm.

No one would deny this is a complex problem involving a network of firms some of which are publicly owned, some of which aren’t. But its potential to seriously undermine the city-centre economy and adversely affect its citizens and workers means the issue must be given priority. Donald Macleod, who convenes the Glasgow Licensing Forum, is calling for the nationalisation of vital bus services and that’s hardly surprising; the potential solutions must also include greater regulation of bus services to ensure they meet passenger needs.

It is certainly good news that First Bus has now postponed the end of the late-night buses until August, possibly providing more time to find a solution; the suggestion by McGill's that it may run some of the services is also welcome  But ultimately, the crisis highlights the scale of the city's transport problem. The city and the surrounding areas lack an integrated transport policy, led and supported by government and local authorities. Action must be taken urgently to put such a plan in place.