A NEW campaign is being launched to make all public transport in Glasgow free as a way to help the local economy recovery from coronavirus.

Free Our City will launch on September 19 with the aim of using Glasgow as a Scottish test-bed for the kind of free transport schemes already developed in the US and Europe.

Besides helping to cut car use and reduce carbon emissions, the idea is being promoted as a way to help the economy both by hiring people and getting others back to work.

The campaign builds on the work of the Get Glasgow Moving campaign, which has called for an integrated, publicly owned transport system across the city with simple affordable fares.

Activist Ellie Harrison, the chair of Get Glasgow Moving, who is behind Free Our City, said: “Once the pandemic has passed, we will be faced with a massive economic crisis and a climate emergency that is not going away.

“Building a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network – free at the point of use – will provide the thousands of high quality, ready-to-go green jobs that we’ll urgently need for our city to make a just and green recovery.”

Bus travel, which accounts for around three-quarters of public transport journeys, was already falling before Covid, declining by 10 per cent in Scotland over the last five years.

Meanwhile the number of cars registered in Scotland hit a record high of 3m last year.

Public transport use has slumped with the pandemic, as people stayed home or opted for car travel, but the Scottish Government now sees it as part of building a green recovery.

The Estonian capital Tallinn has offered its citizens free pubic transport since 2013.

Last year, Kansas City in Missouri became the first major US city to back free bus travel for its 490,000 residents, and Denver and Salt Lake City have also explored the idea.

Writing in the latest Scottish Left Review about the Free Our City campaign, Ms Harrison said: “We’re demanding that our politicians deliver a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network that’s free at the point of use.

“Free public transport benefits everyone, but especially those living on low incomes, young people, women and black and ethnic minorities – who all rely on public transport more.

“In Glasgow, with such low car-ownership (49% of households), free public transport would reduce social isolation and lift people out of poverty.

“Last year, Glasgow City Council declared a ‘climate emergency’ and agreed the target of reducing the city’s emissions to net-zero by 2030. One of their Climate Emergency Working Group’s Recommendations was a ‘formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use’.

“The Free Our City coalition has been founded to ensure this ‘assessment’ becomes action to make this policy a reality sooner rather than later.”

Ms Harrison did not put a pricetag on the scheme, but said the broader economic benefits of free public transport would outweigh the costs, “returning £1.70 to the economy for every £1 spent... it can pay for itself in increased tax receipts”.

But she added: “It is only practical and cost-effective to deliver with full public control of the whole public transport network – trains, Subway and buses.

“We can improve pay, conditions and training for staff. And, we can deliver far more frequent and reliable services for passengers to reduce overcrowding, and better plan the routes to speed-up journey times and minimise the need for interchange.

“We need to use this crisis as an opportunity to build back a far better public transport network, which actually serves our needs and helps us meet the many challenges of the decade ahead.”

The Scottish Government currently spends around £270m a year on concessionary fares.

Free Scotland-wide bus travel for the over-60s and the disabled was introduced in 2006, and the Young Scot card scheme give free travel to those aged 16 to 18.

As part of a budget deal with the Scottish Greens, SNP ministers have promised a national concessionary bus scheme for all all under-19s.

However they also considering a concessionary scheme for under-26s.

In last week’s Programme for Government this was explicitly linked to the pandemic.

It said: “We will consult with young people’s views on the impacts of Covid 19 and post lockdown measures on public transport usage and behaviour to inform this, and as part of the review of discounts available on public transport to those under the age of 26 which is due for completion end of December 2020.”

In the same issue of the SLR, Unite Scotland general secretary Pat Rafferty also advocated fare-free buses, citing the example of Dunkirk in France, where there had been a 50% increase in passenger numbers under the scheme.

“The need for a green mass transport revolution is clear. We need to rebalance the economy through cleaner and greener transport, and more importantly encourage people back on the buses,” he said.

Glasgow Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “Improving public transport will be vital to building a green recovery and tackling the climate crisis. Scottish Greens have already secured free public transport for under 19s, coming into effect next year, but it’s clear if we’re serious about tackling rising transport emissions we need to go further.

“Free public transport for all is our goal, and one that will make public transport convenient for all. Bold policies like free public transport are essential if we are to convince people that it is worth leaving the car behind.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: "The idea of a free public transport area isn’t something we are actively exploring because it just isn’t viable under the current regulatory frameworks that apply to transport in the UK. At the very least, it would require public ownership – the alternative being taxpayers write a blank cheque for private operators, with little say in the service.”