Leader comment: Bus pledge needs to be backed with cash

A 101 Stagecoach bus heading east through West Linton.
A 101 Stagecoach bus heading east through West Linton.
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TRANSPORT Minister Humza Yousaf certainly sounded like a man in control.

Discussing proposals to fill gaps in the current bus network, he said the Scottish Government would not stand by as passenger numbers declined.

But examine the detail of what Mr Yousaf has in mind and he does rather propose allowing others to deal with the problem.

Ministers want to give councils more power to ensure full services via partnerships with companies or even by running services themselves if necessary.

Perhaps Mr Yousaf should have said the Scottish Government would not allow local authorities to stand by as passenger numbers declined.

Bus passenger numbers in Scotland have fallen by 10 per cent over the past five years and although the majority say they are happy with services, a substantial minority - including many who live in more isolated areas which are increasingly badly served by bus operators - have genuine cause for complaint.

There is a rose-tinted view of the past that says that public transport was better in the good old days. This is clearly not the case: modern buses and trains are safer and more comfortable than those which preceded them and - for many people - the service on offer is more than adequate.

But away from the busy central belt, far too many Scots are forced to rely on erratic and desperately limited services.

Tickets prices have steadily increased while, for many, service has declined.

More than a decade of council tax freezes means Scotland’s local authorities are under pressure as never before, with services being pared back in what sometimes seems a never-ending cycle of cuts.

As councils struggle to meet their responsibilities in key areas such as social work and education, it is unlikely many will find the spare cash necessary to invest in improved public transport.

If it comes to a choice between cash for social work departments and cash for partnerships with bus companies, we hope the former is likely to win out.

For these proposals to work, the Scottish Government will require to play its full part in ensuring new funding is available for any council-supported services.

Otherwise better bus services will come at a heavy cost to those least able to pay.