Scotland’s buses need to be less like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter and more like the French – Alastair Dalton

The cabin crew announcement oozed an air of unexpectedly infectious excitement and expectation.

You should be happy – you’re heading for the south of France, the crew member enthused.

My anticipation at visiting the famed Cote d’Azur for the first time was already high before stepping on the flight from Edinburgh, and that message just seemed to confirm my hopes.

Our week’s holiday based in Nice did not disappoint – from the intensity of the light and the deep blue sky, the rugged coastline, the perfect swimming temperature of the Mediterranean, to even the pebble beaches, making me realise how much I prefer them to sand.

Buses in Nice have flat fares, separate entry and exit doors and screens announcing every stop. Picture: Kevin. B/WikiMedia Commons

But an additional delight that significantly reduced the perennial stress of getting about in an unfamiliar place was to discover how easy Nice’s buses were to use.

For the many visitors who depend on public transport when abroad, buses are often their last choice.

That’s certainly the case for me, which might sound ridiculous considering my job.

However, unlike trains and trams, whose fixed lines and stops provide built-in certainty, buses can be an bewildering, unknown quantity.

Every bus stop in Nice has a name. Picture: The Scotsman

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My nightmare – and this applies equally in Scotland – is getting on a bus, especially on a rainy night when it’s least possible to see where you are going, and be whisked off into the unknown, a bit like boarding the Knight Bus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

I’ve repeatedly written about how buses, despite being by far Scotland’s most used form of public transport, lag behind other modes in user-friendliness.

In some areas, basic yet vital information is missing, such as route maps and fares at bus stops.

Tickets and passes are validated using machines within buses in Nice, reducing boarding delays. Picture: The Scotsman

Once you’re on board, you often have no idea where you are or when you’ve reached your stop unless you follow the route on a map on your phone.

So back to Nice, and we soon realised that while day trips to the likes of Monte Carlo and its extraordinary Oceanographic Museum were easily made by train, to reach other places like the beautiful hilltop village of Eze would require a bus.

But my fears were totally misplaced – Lignes d’Azur, which runs the local network, operates a blissfully easy to understand and logical system that immediately inspired me with confidence.

For a start, every bus stop has a name, so you know exactly where you are when you board and alight.

The next stop is displayed along with two announcements. Picture: The Scotsman

Compare that with the bus stops over at least five miles of Great Western Road in Glasgow, every single one of which just bears the name of that street.

Better still, clear electronic screens on the buses show the name of the next stop, and the one before and after, accompanied by an announcement which is repeated twice.

On top of that, there’s a flat fare, while passengers boarding don’t hold up the bus by having to pay or show their passes to the driver – tickets and passes are validated by a machine inside the bus.

I know French public transport is funded differently from Scotland’s, and there may be cultural differences to paying fares, but I see no reason why our bus networks can’t be as easy to use for both first-time passengers and French visitors as the ones the latter can be justly proud of across the Channel.


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