Councils across Scotland could be handed sweeping new powers to introduce publicly-owned bus services under plans coming before MSPs this week.
Labour is seeking to change the proposed Transport Bill at Holyrood, which would allow town halls to launch municipal bus companies that would freely compete for any other service or franchise.
The proposed legislation would allow councils to take control of some services, but Labour says this would effectively only apply to “loss-making routes”, allowing existing private companies to battle over more profitable routes.
Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: “Under the SNP government, Scotland’s bus network is being dismantled route by route. While fares have soared, passenger numbers have plummeted.
“However, the SNP’s timid Transport Bill only allow councils to set up municipal bus companies to run loss-making routes.
“This will allow Scotland’s transport tycoons to continue to grab the profits and leave communities short-changed.
“Labour wants to re-write the bill to allow councils to run any bus service direct, so they can use the income to keep fares down and protect bus routes instead of the profits being hived off to the bus company shareholders.”
The plans will be considered by the rural economy and connectivity committee at one of two meetings to be held on Wednesday. The only publicly-owned municipal bus company in Scotland is Lothian Buses, whose existence pre-dates deregulation.
New legal requirements to ensure bus service improvement plans and franchises detail how they will contribute towards tackling poverty will also be sought by Labour this week.
The party will seek amendments to the bill that would mean a new public database to show bus service standards across the country, along with proposals to improve accessibility on buses for the disabled and an amendment requiring changes to bus routes to undergo consultation, including commercial services.
The move is likely to win the backing of the Greens, who have also called for local councils to be run by bus operators in Scotland.
Councils who have previously put routes out to tender have been forbidden from running them under rules introduced by the Conservative Government in the 1980s.
The Scottish Government has said it is committed to tackling the “historic decline” in bus passenger numbers. The Transport Bill is designed to give councils the power to meet local needs through the use of partnership approaches, local franchising or to run their own buses where appropriate. Minister say since the Bill was introduced, some councils have called for the powers to be extended further.