Lukewarm on the heels of a host of vote-winning stuff from the SNP such as scrapping prescriptions and tuition fees, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard wants to extend free bus travel to the under 25s.
At present, the over-60s can lord it over the rest of us with their Willy Wonka-style golden tickets, allowing them to jump on and off buses with reckless abandon – knees and artificial hips permitting.
It was a devolved Labour-led Government that brought in the free bus pass for them back in 2006 and calls to increase the age of eligibility last year were rightly given short shrift.
These young millennials know not of the great opportunity that now awaits them if Leonardo’s plan ever comes to fruition, which would see him rise to become the architect of their dreams.
I am, of course, talking about the chance they will have to experience that most Scottish of pastimes – the bus run. The bus run was a rite of passage for Scottish youngsters growing up in the 70s and 80s.
I can only speak from a toonie perspective here and round circle trips on the likes of the number 32/52 and 42/46 in Edinburgh, but I’m sure teuchter equivalents existed. I’m in no doubt that, given the opportunity, the Instagram generation, weaned on a diet of social media, will embrace this ‘ultimate experience’ to the envy of their 26-something friends.
For the sheltered among us, the bus run is when a group of mates jump on with the intention of disembarking at the same stop a few hours later, depending on how long it takes to complete the route – preferably a circle.
A splendid way to pass the time, whole families have been known to spend days, weeks, months (?) in this manner, with nothing but sandwiches and Greggs sausage rolls for sustenance. Quick, pass the tartan travel rug. Way before your fancy open-top bus tours with tourist guides in a variety of languages, the bus run was the ideal way to see the beating heart of your chosen metropolis and its edgier outer districts.
Armed with a quarter of sports mixtures or ‘single’ cigarettes, if you were a child smoker, you’d head for the back of the top deck and settle down for an afternoon spent flicking V-signs at the kids from other schools.
This was also a particularly good way to skive lessons, a vital part of any child’s education, and was right up there with trips to the museum and hiding in Princes Street Gardens as a way to avoiding the horror of double maths.
So, I can now confidently predict that ‘bus running’ will be the next big thing should Leonardo’s plans for eventual free bus travel for all come to pass. You can keep your wild swimming, rock climbing and hot yoga, the cool kids will be scouring the timetables of Lothian Buses and equivalents in other places for the routes that promise the most adventure.
Business-minded Hipster types may look to offer ‘in journey’ bus-run fayre, with local produce, including traybakes, on offer and the downstairs converted into an area for fine dining.
Unlike my generation, the 25s and under – no idea how Labour arrived at that age range – will be able to gaze at brutalist architecture and a range of charity shops, on the way to the periphery of our major cities. For nowt.
No, Blakey-type inspectors to harangue them about fair dodging, or eagle-eyed drivers checking their periscopes for vandals – the Generation Y/Zers will be able to travel for free without having to fork out around £25 a week. Instagram photo opportunities abound and a quick buck is to be made by any would-be tour guide with the local knowledge to point out where the high-rise flats in Oxgangs used to be.
Edinburgh-wise, the Scottish Labour announcement on the buses, came at a time when cooncillors in ‘Das Kapital’ have just voted in favour of completing the original tram line from York Place to Newhaven. Cue a collective sigh from Leithers and assorted other locals as at least 18 months of sheer misery awaits them – with not much much change out of a £210 million note.
These cooncil poseurs will stop at nothing in their quest to make Embra appear like a ‘barry’ city to the outside world. Trams, tourists, tat, you name it – they will embrace anything that doesn’t involve difficult spadework like solving a health and social care crisis or the need for new schools. Oblivious as they are to the fact the city has resembled a building site for nigh on 20 years now.
I’ve never been on a tram but I can tell just by looking at them that they’re not a threat to the emerging bus run scene – no upstairs, bland arterial route, lack of local characters, and it costs £8.50 for a return ticket to the airport.
No thanks – blink and it’s over. Although late to the freebie party, Leonard could be onto a winner with these plans. It makes sense for buses to be put back into state ownership and comes at a time when the Scottish Government’s obsession with free stuff seems to be on the wane, given the plans to introduce a tax on workplace parking.
Scottish Labour will keep banging the drum for free bus travel benefiting the poorest in our society which is no bad thing when the gap between the richest and poorest is constantly widening.
A not-to-be-missed Holyrood debate on bus travel is set for tomorrow for those looking to change channel on the Brexit shenanigans.
I’m thinking of asking for a half-day to pop along, to see real democracy in action if I can find a bus that’ll get me there from the West End.