By Alistair Grant

BUS fares have risen at almost twice the rate of inflation since 2007, new figures show. 

Statistics released by the Department of Transport outline the scale of price hikes as the number of passengers has declined. 

Scottish Labour, which highlighted the figures, said they revealed the extent of the SNP’s mismanagement of Scotland’s bus network.

The party’s transport spokesman Colin Smyth called on the Scottish Government to take action.

He said: “Under the SNP, Scotland’s bus network has plummeted in popularity and suitability and skyrocketed in price.

“The commuters of Scotland are now left in a situation where the cost of bus travel is actively forcing them to travel by other means, possibly leading to an increase in the use of cars.

“Labour successfully amended the Transport Bill to lift the ban on local councils being able to run bus services. 

“The SNP now need to get on and implement this change and provide our councils with the funding to set up and run local bus services to reverse the decline.

“The SNP must act now to ensure that Scotland’s poorly regulated bus network is both value for money and fit to suit the needs of the people of Scotland. 

“Continuing to sleep at the wheel will only lead to higher prices and poorer service.”

Scottish Labour said bus fares have risen at almost twice the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rate of inflation since the SNP took power in 2007 and are now substantially more expensive than in previous years.

The party said the Department for Transport’s figures also show that between 2007 and the beginning of 2019 bus use in Scotland has dropped dramatically, with the number of passenger journeys falling by 108,000,000.

However statistics also show bus use has fallen across England and Wales while fares have soared.

A Transport Scotland spokesman defended its record, and said the wide-ranging Transport (Scotland) Bill, which was voted into law by the Scottish Parliament in October, would offer “an ambitious new model” for bus services.

He said: “Our draft National Transport Strategy is clear that buses are a key part of the sustainable public transport system which helps address the climate emergency. 

“We are working to make services more attractive and increase passenger numbers.

“The Transport Bill offers an ambitious new model for bus services. 

“It provides local authorities with options to influence and improve services in their area, ensuring that there are sustainable bus networks across Scotland. 

“We are bringing forward long term funding of more than half a billion pounds for a Bus Partnership Fund for local authorities and to roll out infrastructure for the trunk road network to prioritise buses in congested areas, helping improve punctuality and reliability.

“In addition, more than a third of bus passengers already benefit from free services through our concessionary travel scheme.”

Earlier this year, Scottish Labour successfully amended the Transport Bill to allow councils to run their own bus services. Deregulation of the bus market in the 1980s led to many publicly-owned companies being sold to private operators.

Lothian Buses, the largest municipal bus company in the UK, was among those to remain council-run.

Mr Smyth previously said his party’s amendment would “allow communities to wrestle control of their bus network away from big business”.

He said: “These changes will allow councils to run services directly or through an arms-length company to the benefit of the communities which they serve.”

The transport legislation passed by Holyrood also paved the way for controversial plans to let councils introduce a workplace parking tax.

This will empower local authorities to charge employers a workplace parking levy for each parking bay they offer staff.

In Nottingham, currently the only place in the UK to operate such a scheme, the anti-congestion charge is set at £415 a year. However most firms pass it on to workers, which adds VAT and costs the staff £500.

Meanwhile, to help cut pollution, cities will also be able to create low emission zones, with polluting vehicles deterred from entering by punitive charges.