Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the number of constituents, in Central Scotland and elsewhere, who have expressed real concern about the provision of bus services within local communities.
Studies have shown that bus journey’s account for approximately 85% of all public transport journeys taken in Scotland, and that access to local bus services is especially crucial for the elderly and those on low incomes.
I recently visited a group of constituents in Airdrie whose travel opportunities are limited by irregular service along daytime routes, and scant provision of evening bus servies. They also expressed concern about recent price rises along certain routes.
That is why the decision by the SNP Government to cut the Bus Services Operators’ Grant by 20%, and to change the way in which it is calculated, is so misguided. Formerly, the grant was calculated accorded to fuel expenditure; now, following the recent rise in fuel duty and prices (average diseal prices increased by 14.7% last year), the grant will be calculated according to mileage.
In addition to this, the Scottish Government’s decision to impose a cap on the National Concessionary Travel Scheme will place further pressure on bus operators, especially given that current projections suggest that this year’s scheme will exceed the £180 million budget by around £6 million.
I and my Labour colleagues believe that the Scottish Government should be investing in the public transport infrastructure. Instead, it has chosen to reduce a grant that helps to maintain local services and prevents fares from escalating.
Sadly, it is likely to be passengers that bear the brunt of the SNP’s folly, and that is why Scottish Labour is backing the numerous campaigns that have sprung up throughout Scotland to support local bus services and condemn SNP cuts.