by Gillian Fyfe, CAS spokesperson for strong communities
This article appeared in the Scotsman on 18 October 2019
Last week the Transport Bill passed its final stage in the Scottish Parliament, making significant changes to how our bus system works.
It was certainly a system that needed to change. And in terms of political attention, the bus has generally been overlooked in discussions about public transport where the focus is often on trains.
But over three-quarters of public transport journeys in Scotland are made by bus, meaning that millions of us rely on buses for work, leisure and lifeline services, as well as countless businesses depending on them to get staff and customers to their door.
Last year, Citizens Advice Scotland ran a national survey asking people across the country what they thought of their local bus services. Nearly 5,000 of you told us your opinions and many felt that the views of bus passengers have too often been neglected.
We highlighted this evidence to the Scottish Government when the Transport Bill was in its early stages, and are pleased to have influenced its development for the benefit of consumers. In particular the Bill enables ‘service standards’ to include the frequency of buses, and will also compel bus companies to provide accurate information on routes, fares, and timetables which were big areas of dissatisfaction in our survey.
The central finding from our survey was that in many areas the local bus services are not meeting the needs of the community. 64% of respondents told us there were not enough buses in their area, and 56% said the buses that do exist are too often late.
For some people, this is just a nuisance. But for those who are more vulnerable, a late or non-existent bus can be a serious problem. 16% of respondents told us they couldn’t get a bus to their local hospital, and 13% couldn’t get to their place of work by bus. This shows how important it is that this Bill protects access to, and frequency of, lifeline bus services, to help maintain local communities and their economies, and ensure individuals can access essential services.
One of the main roles of the Citizens Advice network is to act as the voice of consumers and influence policy in their interest.
We don’t just give people advice, we also advocate on their behalf. The changes we have helped build into this Bill, based on our survey and other evidence from CAB casework, is just one example of how we engage and influence the political process to ensure legislation works for the common good.
Because creating a bus service that is fit for purpose is not just important for individual passengers. If Scotland is to meet our ambitious climate change targets we need to get people out of their cars and on to public transport, so there is an important imperative in terms of environmental policy as well.
So, everyone in Scotland should have access to a decent, efficient and affordable bus service and this Transport Bill makes some progress towards that end. It should not be considered the end point of course, but hopefully it does indicate a move towards a more positive direction for Scotland’s bus network in the future.