Free Our City

Scot.E3 is part of the Free Our City campaign which launches with a conference on 19th September. We’re demanding a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network for Glasgow – free at the point of use.

Over the last few years hundreds of forward-thinking cities across the world – from Kansas to Calais – are upgrading their public transport networks and making them free for everyone to use. This radical policy is a necessary one: to address the climate emergency and gross inequalities in our society.Free public transport benefits everyone, but especially those living on poverty pay or benefits, young people, women, black and ethnic minorities – who all rely on public transport more. In a city like Glasgow with such low car-ownership (49% of households), free public transport would have a dramatic effect in reducing social isolation and lifting people out of poverty.

Last year, Glasgow City Council agreed the ambitious target to reduce the city’s emissions to net-zero by 2030, and agreed to undertake a ‘formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use’.

The Free Our City coalition has been founded to ensure this ‘assessment’ becomes action, and that this policy becomes a reality sooner, rather than later. We don’t have time to waste. Reliance on private cars is the main cause of carbon emissions and toxic air pollution in our city. In order to meet the 2030 target, car mileage will have to be cut by as much as 60% in the next ten years [1]. We need to provide universal and comprehensive active travel and public transport networks, so that everyone can fully participate in the social and economic life of our city without need or aspiration to own a car.

Free public transport also has economic benefits which far outweigh the cost of running it – returning £1.70 to the economy for every £1 spent, [2] and it can pay for itself in increased tax receipts. But it is only practical and cost-effective to deliver with full public control of the whole public transport network [3]. We must therefore use all new powers available in the Transport Act 2019 to re-regulate our bus network (under ‘franchising’) and set up a publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow to take over routes and reconnect the communities left stranded by private bus company cuts. 


Why now? 

The coronavirus crisis has proved that public transport is an essential public service to get our keyworkers to their jobs. It has also laid bare the absurdities of running our public transport on a for-profit basis. The need to maximise profits from fares is not compatible with current social distancing guidance. When services were reduced during lockdown, they ended up costing us more to run. The Scottish Government has already bailed-out failing private bus companies by more than £300 million. This should be an opportunity to buy back our buses, so that they can be run in the public good for the long term.

There are many ways to improve the safety of our public transport and public control is central to them all. If we own and run our own buses, then we control the safety for staff and passengers. We can improve pay, conditions and training for staff. And we can deliver far more frequent and reliable services for passengers to reduce overcrowding, and better plan the routes to speed-up journey times and minimise the need to change. We can upgrade the fleet to zero-emissions electric buses and make them more spacious, with air-conditioning and multiple entrances and exits [4].  Upgrading the fleet of Glasgow buses can be an opportunity to save Alexander Dennis, the world-leading bus production company based at Larbert, which is currently threatening to make 650 workers redundant because orders have slowed down through the coronavirus pandemic [5].

We need to use this crisis as an opportunity to build back a far better public transport network, which actually serves our needs and helps us meet the many challenges of the decade ahead. Once the pandemic has passed, we will be faced with a massive economic crisis and a climate emergency that is not going away.[

 Building a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network – free at the point of use – will provide the thousands of high quality, ready to go green jobs that we’ll urgently need for our city to make a just and green recovery [6].

Imagine if buses were free?

The Free Our City coalition is launching with a conference “Imagine if buses were free?” on Saturday 19th September. Speakers from other cities which have achieved free public transport will describe how their system works. We will discuss in break-out groups what we need in Greater Glasgow, and how we move forward to achieve it. The conference will be open to all, welcoming representatives of community organisations across Greater Glasgow and interested individuals to share in the discussion. Register for the conference on Eventbrite. Promote the conference by sharing the Facebook Event and the Event Tweet .


[1] During the crisis, publicly-controlled buses in London were made free so that passengers did not need to make contact with the driver to pay fares.

[2] By the end of 2020, as many as 1 in 3 young Scots could be unemployed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

[3] ScotE3, 2020, Act Now: save lives, save jobs, save the planet

[4] Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.2

[5] Jeff Turner, 2020, How Much Will Free Buses for Glasgow Cost and What are the Benefits?, p.1

[6] Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.4

Housing and climate action

One of the workshop streams at the Scot.E3 conference in November was devoted to housing. This report is from Mike Downham who was one of the facilitators of the discussion.  

  1. Housing in Scotland is a disgrace – from the Muirhead tower blocks to new-build. A participant from Hungary, who has been in Glasgow for a year or so and has had extreme difficulties in finding somewhere to live and which is affordable to heat, said that Scotland’s housing compares very badly with Hungary’s, which at least has thick walls. “You’ve got to do something about it”.
  2. Student housing. The Universities are supplying student housing which is unaffordable except for wealthy students, mostly from the Far East, and make it difficult for most students to find less expensive accommodation. There has been a lot of public criticism about students having such high quality housing, while many citizens are homeless. But the reality is that the majority of students have huge difficulties in finding housing they can afford to rent and heat. It’s not unusual for them to end up on someone else’s sofa.
  3. Commodification of housing since 1980 is at the root of the housing crisis in Scotland. Housing policy has been primarily aimed at growing the national economy, instead of housing being recognised as a human right.
  4. What we can do together towards a just transition in Scotland’s Housing:
  • Demand that Councils bring building standards up to passive-house specifications and replace building control jobs lost in the name of austerity, without which new housing can’t be adequately inspected. These changes are perfectly feasible for Councils.
  • Put pressure on the Scottish Government to ensure that the new Scottish Investment Bank will direct enough funding to build the new houses needed (this is urgent – the Scottish Investment Bank Bill is going through parliament now).
  • Put pressure on Pension Funds to invest in housing.
  • Support grass-roots protest as demonstrated by Living Rent’s support for Muirhouse tenants, which started with door-knocking to get all tenants’ views.
  • Suggest to XR that they target some of their direct action on grass-roots projects such as Muirhouse
  • Suggest that grass-roots projects such as Muirhouse deliver their demands to the COP 26 – to both the formal and the alternative meetings.
  • Keep in our sites the eventual objective of a National Housing Company through which communities will choose the type of housing, local facilities and green species they need
  1. Climate is just one part of the wider argument – so the challenge for the Climate Movement is to build links with all other movements concerned with social injustice.
  2. “We need to close this down” – just as we would have no hesitation in doing if there was a proposal to build an asbestos factory at the end of our street. Though this was said in respect of the climate polluters, the fact that it was said in a discussion on Housing, Health and Fuel Poverty suggests that it should be our approach to all forms of social and planetary injustice.

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Image (Construction of the Passive House) CC BY SA 2.0 from Sustainable Sanitation Alliance  

 

2019 Conference report – Mary Church

Mary, who is Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland followed on from Simon Pirani.  In her contribution she talked about the Scottish context and the need to mobilise for COP26 when it’s held in Glasgow in 2020.  You can watch the video of her speaking here.

2019 Conference Report – Simon Pirani

In the second plenary session of the conference Simon Pirani and Mary Church reflected on the growth of the climate movement and the challenges we face. This post includes video of most of Simon’s contribution. He began by reflecting on the connections between some of the struggles for just transition highlighted in the REEL News films and the onslaught on working class communities that took place in the Miner’s Strike of 1984/5. Miners were fighting for their communities and lives and livelihoods. He argued that in the context of climate crisis we are defending communities no less than we were in 1984/1985.

Simon was clear that there is a still an argument to win. Some trade unionists suggest that jobs and climate action are in opposition. He argued that this a false choice – without system change we face disaster on an unimaginable scale – our fight is for effective action and social justice. Each depends on the other.

2019 Conference Report – Climate Rebels

The first two sessions of the conference aimed to set the scene for the discussion on the politics and practice of just transition that followed.  First up was Shaun Day from REEL News.  The idea of just transition has deep roots in the USA and goes back to the 1990’s.

In 2018, Reel News went on a 14 week tour of North America to look at grassroots struggles around climate change, particularly struggles around a “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy, where workers and communities control the process so that they benefit from the transition, and around “just recovery” – recovery from extreme weather events which do not exacerbate current inequalities.
The documentary films that they made, while in the US, record inspiring and visionary struggles all over the continent, led by working class communities of colour, with people organising just transitions and just recoveries themselves.

Shaun showed short extracts from eight of the American Climate Rebels films:

Building a social and solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi 

Taking on the oil giant Chevron in Richmond, California

Fighting injustice, pollution, environmental damage and police oppression in Los Angeles

People United for Sustainable Housing in Buffalo

Kentucky Miners fighting for renewable energy

Towards a zero carbon, zero waste city – New York

Hurricane Harvey – just recovery in Texas

Minnesota – stopping the tar sands pipeline

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Image by Leslie Peterson CC BY NC 2.0  Stand with Standing Rock

Common Weal’s Green New Deal campaign

The final speaker session of the ScotE3 conference on 16th November will see Jonathon Shafi from Common Weal talking about their new campaign for a Green New Deal for Scotland – Our Common Home

You can register for the conference on Eventbrite or simply register on the day at St Ninian’s Hall, Greyfriars Charteris Centre, 138/140 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR.  Doors open at 9.30am and the conference starts at 10am.

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Campaigning for climate jobs

The first session after the lunch break at Saturday’s Scot.E3 conference focuses in on the campaign for climate jobs. Find out more about the conference here.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite 

This quote from the Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet explains the critical importance of these jobs to the transition to a zero carbon economy.

’Climate Jobs’ are not the same as ‘green jobs’. Some green jobs help the climate, but ‘green jobs’ can mean anything – park rangers, bird wardens, pollution control, or refuse workers.   All these jobs are necessary, but they do not stop climate change.

Climate Jobs are jobs that lead directly to cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, and so slow down climate change. For instance, workers who build wind farms replace power stations that burn coal or oil. Workers who insulate buildings reduce the oil and gas we burn. Bus drivers reduce the amount of oil we burn in cars.

You can read more about climate jobs from the pamphlet online on the Campaign Against Climate Change website 

Speakers in the session are Clara Paillard, an activist in the PCS Union and the Campaign Against Climate Change, Davie Brockett from Unite Rank and File and Eurig Scandrett on behalf of UCU Scotland.