From navigating Glasgow on two buses in my early working years to succumbing to the convenience of a car at 30, I know Scotland's transportation system falls short of meeting the needs of its citizens.

The need for change is palpable. Glasgow requires a revamped transport system to improve connections, bolster the economy, and contribute to tackling climate change.

While some on the fringes of politics are organising 'People Make Glasgow protests' against low emission zones (LEZs), we must provide a viable alternative by promoting a better public transport system. One which meets the needs of the whole population, particularly the less privileged. This requires an affordable, accessible, and reliable transport infrastructure.

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How we choose to get about Scotland's cities plays a key role in our individual and collective health and wellbeing. Investing in our transport system is not just about facilitating journeys; it is about removing barriers to getting jobs. It's about having leisure, services, and amenities within a short walk, cycle, or public transport journey from our homes. Such transformation could ease journeys, making our streets safer and our cities more liveable.

In the environmental crisis, and with deprived communities disproportionately impacted by air quality issues, we need a better transport system – to improve connectivity, to improve our economy and to help us achieve net zero targets.

The environmental toll of Glasgow's current transport system is alarming. According to Friends of the Earth, the city is Scotland's largest source of climate emissions and the primary contributor to air pollution, resulting in a staggering 2,500 premature deaths annually. Nearly one-third of Glasgow's annual carbon emissions, totalling 2.4 million tonnes, are attributed to transport, disproportionately affecting the health of children, and working people.

Although private cars significantly contribute to these emissions, convincing people to break free from this reliance poses a challenge. Yet, there is a latent desire among many, especially the youth, to abandon personal vehicles if there's a viable alternative. That alternative, however, hinges on the availability of a robust and dependable public transport system connecting us with our workplaces and loved ones.

Glasgow's Transport Strategy has begun significant work in building safer infrastructure to support active travel, such as walking and cycling, and behavioural change. Identifying gaps in our transport network presents opportunities for innovative solutions like mobility hubs for the elderly and disabled and park-and-ride collaborations with neighbouring councils. Public consultation and engagement are pivotal in steering Glasgow towards a greener and better-connected future.

The Herald: The Glasgow SubwayThe Glasgow Subway (Image: free)

Glasgow's rich history included tram infrastructure until the 1960s and the city has one of the oldest subways in the world and a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city. Could these hidden assets be the key to expanding our transport network? The publicly owned Subway, undergoing its first new train upgrade in 43 years, remains an untapped resource.

The ambitious Clyde Metro, a 30-year multi-billion project in the investment stage, holds the promise to transform Glasgow and its region. This grand venture has the potential to integrate public transport into a metropolitan marvel. However, for success, residents must be at the heart of this transformation, and specific barriers must be addressed to ensure community buy-in, motivation, and empowerment.

While ScotRail is now in public ownership, the biggest impediment to progress lies in how private bus companies drain public funds by soaking up subsidies. Subsidies we all contribute to through taxation. Campaigns like Better Buses for Strathclyde are gaining momentum, signalling a growing political consensus for re-establishing public control over the bus system.

The call for the 12 councils under the Strathclyde Regional Public Transport Authority SPT to collaborate on regulating the network is a step towards positive change. As one of the councillors on the SPT board, it's an honour to represent the people of Glasgow, voicing their frustrations and asking the hard questions others may shy away from.

The Transport Act of 2019 bestowed new powers upon SPT over regional bus networks. It was a game-changing moment. For the first time since 1986, regional transport authorities can bring bus networks back into public control through a 'franchising' system. This offers a chance for an integrated, reliable, affordable, easy, and efficient transport system accessible to everyone.

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The ill-fated bus deregulation policy implemented by Thatcher's Tory government in 1986 wreaked havoc on Glasgow's transport system. No other country dared to undertake such a free-market experiment.

The result has been a decades-long crisis in the private bus sector, with companies prioritising profits over service. Routes are continually cut by private companies struggling to recruit workers due to inadequate wages and conditions, and the UK government refuses to put these jobs on shortage occupational lists to attract migrant workers.

While private bus companies profit from public subsidies amounting to hundreds of millions, the lack of conditions attached allows them to operate with little accountability. It's no wonder the bosses of companies like McGill's find themselves in the Sunday Times Rich List. Their resistance to bus regulation stems from a desire to maintain unchecked profits.

Glasgow has the potential to lead the world in developing a public transport system. Estonia and Luxembourg have embraced country-wide free public transport, while Montpellier in France has introduced the same. Zurich's world-class system, enshrined in law for its citizens, runs seamlessly from 6am to midnight, with services every 15 minutes.

Cities like Munich, Vienna, Oslo, and Stockholm boast integrated public transport systems that outshine Glasgow. Even in England, London's Oyster card and Greater Manchester's Bee network showcase successful integration models and lower fares. Implementing free public transport in Scotland could significantly improve ordinary lives - and meet international carbon reduction targets.

Acknowledging the financial constraints of Westminster, the Scottish Government has taken steps to extend free bus travel to under 22s and experiment with ending rail peak fares. However, prioritising further changes in transport could yield profound benefits for the NHS, reduce pollution and end the isolation contributing to mental health issues.


Imagine a Glasgow where families can see each other more often, communities actively participate in all aspects of life, and where they can access places of work and culture. Opening up neighbourhoods and the countryside, connecting semi-urban and rural areas, contributes to preserving agricultural land and natural spaces. The possibilities are boundless.

I share in the disappointment of SPT that they were not successful in their bid for funding to transition to a zero-emission fleet, as revealed in yesterday's Herald. Something that I believe has strong public support.

On March 15, 2024, councillors on the SPT face crucial decisions. A comprehensive plan for bus routes meeting communities' needs, seamlessly connecting with other transport modes, and, most importantly, cutting and capping fares is imperative. This once-in-a-generation opportunity demands a radical transformation from the disastrous bus deregulation, seizing new powers to regulate private bus companies through franchising, and establishing a publicly owned bus company to take over routes.

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This is a fight for the people against the private bus company bosses. The choice is clear – prioritise the public's well-being and confront the challenges posed by the current transport system. The time for change is now, and it requires bold, decisive action to create a sustainable, efficient, and affordable public transport system.

Roza Salih is an SNP councillor for Greater Pollok in Glasgow