YEARS ago, when the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition was in power at Holyrood, the SNP opposition called for re-regulation of the buses. The request was refused. Fast forward a few years with the SNP in administration, the Labour opposition demanded the same. Those self-same calls were rejected. For both parties, it seemed a case of saying one thing in opposition but doing another in power.

I never understood why the SNP failed to act. It was party policy which had come into being after the bus wars that erupted in Edinburgh, just after the turn of the millennium. The capital saw almost bumper to bumper buses queued the entire length of Leith Walk, as a private operator sought to access profitable routes operated by the local authority-owned company. It ill served commuters and the environment.

What I can safely say is that accusations that it was as a result of demands from Brian Souter are false. I know, as I was the SNP transport and environment spokesman and met with him on many occasions. As a hugely successful private bus operator he obviously disagreed with the policy. However, at no stage did he seek to exert any pressure on me.

So, the announcement by Humza Yousaf, the Transport Minister, of a Transport Bill containing powers over regulation of the bus industry isn’t just a good proposal but a long overdue one. It’s obviously being proposed as fares rise and passenger numbers decline, so action is needed. But, he deserves credit all the same.

The two best cities for buses are the respective capitals of London and Edinburgh. The former has a regulated model through legislation and the latter has it by virtue of the bus company being municipally owned. It allows for cross subsidising of highly profitable key arterial routes with unprofitable services; but necessary all the same for communities both urban and rural. The same applies for packed peak-hour buses to offset late night or other slack-time services.

The minister’s proposals will therefore be welcomed by some local authorities who’ll see the chance to either provide a municipal challenge to the current operator or more likely impose some regulation on the operation of the service across their communities. It will also provide some comeback against those running services who have withdrawn at very short notice, leaving communities bereft and isolated.

It can offer huge opportunities in some of our major urban areas and adjacent rural communities. Edinburgh, for example, has always looked enviously at Glasgow’s rail routes but never its bus services. Glaswegians venturing along the M8 complain about taxi fares, Edinburghers heading in the other direction moan at the bus fares. An improvement must surely be possible in the minister’s home city. A few other areas may also see benefits, if they can co-operate with some neighbouring authorities for scale of operation.

However, many of the points made to me by Mr Souter and other private sector interests all those years ago, still apply. Many routes are simply not profitable and will still need subsided. The key service from the big town to the nearest city won’t offset the loss on all the other routes that exist. Not just rural communities but much of small town Scotland will see limited benefit. Whether publicly or privately run, financial support will still be needed. That’s why though this is a welcome proposal, much more will be needed. Public transport is vital for communities whether in housing schemes or the countryside. It’s needed for our economy and the environment; but it comes at a cost. It can’t be soaked up by operators or made in the fare box. It’ll still need funded, whether through taxes such as a workplace parking levy or directly through Government support.