A "SIGNIFICANT and worrying fall" in the number of people travelling by bus in the west of Scotland is threatening the future of the region's bus market, a report has warned.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) compared the crisis to a "market failure" as it urged operators and local authorities to work together to halt a steep decline in bus patronage.

HeraldScotland:

A report due to be submitted to SPT's Strategy and Programmes Committee tomorrow[fri] notes that the number of people using buses across the Strathclyde region fell by 22 per cent in the decade to 2014/15 - equivalent to 49 million fewer bus passengers.

It states: "There is no single reason for this significant and worrying fall. The impact of the financial crisis of 2007-08, cheap car deals, out of town/internet shopping, easy access to free or low-cost parking, and the [45 per cent] growth in rail patronage in Scotland over the same period will all have contributed to it."

SPT will tomorrow seek support from its membership to form a 'Strathclyde Bus Alliance' bringing together the region's 12 councils, transport bodies, and major operators including Stagecoach, First and McGill's in a bid to "arrest the decline" in patronage by 2020.

Post-2020, SPT wants the alliance to achieve a "very challenging" three per cent annual passenger growth through more reliable, greener and better integrated public transport.

HeraldScotland: Ralph Roberts, managing director of McGill'sRalph Roberts, managing director of McGill's

The report also highlights how spiralling overheads have hammered competition in the west of Scotland, with around half of operators going bust or being swallowed up by larger companies in the past five years alone.

It states: "There are other statistics which give grave cause for concern as to the future of the bus market: operating costs per passenger over the last 10 years have gone up by 35 per cent; the number of operators in the west of Scotland has reduced from around 120 five years ago to about 60 now."

SPT said it was now wholly or partially subsidising a third (30 per cent) of bus services across the Strathclyde region, which covers the whole of Greater Glasgow, Ayrshire and Argyll and Bute.

The west of Scotland "could possibly be described as experiencing market failure", added the report.

It concludes: "Should the decline continue at a similar rate, the economic, social and environmental impacts for the region will be significant."

Ralph Roberts, managing director of McGill's, said the idea was "welcome and laudable" - but not entirely original. He added: "There are ample examples of initiatives from national and regional transport strategies through to the Bus Action Plan following from the COSLA Concordat. Lots of these agreements and powers lie untouched so we should look at what can be quickly achieved rather than try to re-invent the wheel.

"Additionally, if there is no national or local political buy in for major change, why start something that will under achieve? Our politicians need to get past their tribal statements and actually decide what they want from a bus network, only then can we stop the scatter gun approach and start meaningful discussions.”

HeraldScotland: Scottish Greens leader, Patrick HarvieScottish Greens leader, Patrick Harvie

Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens leader and a Glasgow MSP who has campaigned to improve the city's bus service, said "long term decline" of Glasgow's bus service underlined the case for re-regulation. 

He said: “The travelling public are left at the mercy of private firms who have increased fares and failed to address quality of service.

"It’s not clear how a bus ‘alliance’ will arrest the decline.

"It shows we need a properly regulated public transport system, with funding from taxation to keep fares affordable, so that a decent public service is delivered in the way that so many other European cities take for granted.”

A spokesman for the Confederation of Public Transport (CPT) Scotland, the umbrella body for operators, said: “SPT is right to recognise the need to address bus patronage and to encourage modal shift to bus – an aim of the recently refreshed  National Transport Strategy.

"Achieving growth in bus usage requires a partnership approach, with local and regional government playing their part through actions such as  giving buses priority through congestion.

"CPT hopes this new forum will provide the assistance needed to allow bus operators to provide quick, reliable, sustainable transport and grow bus use in the West of Scotland.”