Ralph Roberts welcomes the new funding package for local authorities which will help ease the traffic jams

In a very welcome departure from policy decisions of recent years, the Scottish Government has announced a £500 million funding package that will enable local authorities – in partnership with bus companies – to introduce bus priority and congestion busting schemes.  

This is a very welcome, if long overdue, initiative. Spending on public transport infrastructure is not cheap and the list of needs is long so it is unsurprising that there is never quite enough money to go around. 

In recent years, the lion’s share of spending has been targeted at heavy, fixed rail infrastructure such as trains, trams and subway. 

A total of £1.5bn has been spent or committed to in an effort to modernise, increase capacity and green the system.  

Rail though, is the minority public transport mode compared to bus, which delivers 74% of public transport journeys in Scotland. In recent years, congestion, the cheap cost of car ownership and the subsidised rail network have all impacted on bus patronage.

As usage has declined and operating costs rise, bus companies are increasingly at odds between what they want to deliver as a service and the need to balance the books. Money is finite and decisions have had to be made.  

HeraldScotland:

Ralph Roberts says the fund is a ‘seminal moment’ for bus user and companies

 

The good news is that bus companies have continued to invest in new, greener vehicles and the air quality and carbon emissions of the bus fleet in Scotland is dropping significantly. Bus companies are limited in what they can do though so this infrastructure fund has come at a seminal moment for bus users and bus companies alike.  

The system cannot be revolutionised at the drop of a hat, so this crucial first investment in bus priority will be the acid test as to whether local authorities are willing to make the tough decisions required and whether bus can be seen as attractive enough to car users to give it a try. 

Poor air quality and congestion affects people’s health and damages our economy. Action is needed and thanks to the Programme for Government announcement, lack of money now cannot be used as an easy excuse. 

As the pro-car lobby howl, local councillors worry about re-election and their own immediate job prospects. 

They must remember, though, that bus users wield as much power in the voting booth as car drivers and they cannot go on deferring decisions through fear. 

The next couple of years are going to be very interesting indeed. 

  • Ralph Roberts is CEO, McGill’s Bus Service Ltd.