Free Our City – protest

There will be a protest on Tuesday 8th June at 12 noon in George Square against Glasgow City Council’s stealthy collusion with the Scottish Government in a last-ditch attempt to block the introduction of a new free bus service across Greater Glasgow – for details see this post.

Free, decarbonised, integrated, Covid-safe, publicly owned, worker-and-user-controlled public transport is the most immediately possible and effective way to address all elements of the current crisis – climate, Covid, poverty, exclusion, inequality.

The time and date of the protest have been timed to coincide with a critical Council meeting on its Climate Emergency Implementation Plan

Please turn up and spread the word. Wear masks and observe social distancing.

Scottish Government puts profit before people in public transport stitch up

Public transport campaigners in Glasgow have led the way in showing how a transport system that meets people’s needs is an important part of the transition to a zero carbon economy. Mike Downham explains why Glasgow City Council’s response to the campaign is desperately inadequate.

There’s a stitch up going on between the SNP Scottish Government (led by Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport) and the SNP Glasgow City Council, along with the Glasgow City Region Cabinet of eight local authorities (SNP Councillor Susan Aitken leads the former and chairs the latter).

First Glasgow bus 38225: Image by Calum Cape CC BY 2.0 

A remarkable article about this was published three days ago on the A Thousand Flowers blog.

It says, for example:

While the SNP have made the long overdue renationalisation of Scotrail one of the central themes of their current election campaign, they are actively inhibiting even tentative steps to reintroduce public control to the bus network.

And:

According to Glasgow’s dominant bus operator First, it’s “practical changes on the ground for the people of Glasgow that are needed, not a stale and out of date regulatory debate.” Here at 
ATF we would tend to disagree – questions of ownership, power and accountability are crucial to the functioning of any part of society, whether that’s football clubs or local buses. Scotland’s private bus operators have had three decades to show they can deliver a good service, and it’s been a resounding failure.
But while securing the power for local authorities to tackle this issue is all very well, if it isn’t resourced and worse still, actively undermined, then what’s the point? 

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 enabled and encouraged Local Authorities to explore three options – Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPS), Franchises, and Municipal Ownership. But in November last year the Scottish Government announced a £500 million Bus Partnership Fund, restricting the fund to the development by Local Transport Authorities of BSIPS. “The Bus Partnership Fund will complement the powers in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, enabling local authorities to work in partnership with bus operators, to develop and deliver ambitious schemes that incorporate bus priority measures”. The Government hasn’t even given guidelines for the exploration of Franchises or Municipal Ownership. Now Glasgow City Council is talking up their progress with a BSIP, as if Franchises and Municipal Ownership aren’t options – despite having previously committed to exploring all three options.

This sleight of hand, under cover of the public focus on Covid-19, is not only dishonest and utterly undemocratic – it’s potentially disastrous for the millions of people across Greater Glasgow who depend on bus transport and for whom the current system is both unfit for purpose and unaffordable. It amounts to another scandalous hand-out to the private bus companies.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spoke in March this year at the Get Glasgow Moving AGM, as a follow-up to his visit to Glasgow in 2018 to collect evidence for his report. He said three things about public transport: first that an efficient and free public transport system in Glasgow would be the most immediate and most realistic way to address Glasgow’s huge poverty and human rights issues; second that there were many examples internationally where this had been achieved through public, democratic control or ownership; and third that there were absolutely no examples internationally where a privately owned public transport system had met needs and rights.

Meanwhile Greater Manchester made history in March “by becoming the first UK city-region to commit to re-regulating its buses since Margaret Thatcher de-regulated them in 1986”, see this report on the Get Glasgow Moving website.

Electric cars are no panacea. The government’s focus on them is a sham

A transition to electric cars is part of both the Scottish and UK governments’ plans to tackle the climate crisis. Here we reprint (with permission) a post by SIMON PIRANI first published on the People and Nature blog, which takes a critical look at the Westminster government’s strategy.

The UK government has put electric cars at the centre of its disastrous climate strategy, which doesn’t even aim for half the needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The focus on electric cars – which goes together with a gigantic £27 billion road-building programme – is opposed by researchers of climate science, transport policy, engineering and urban planning. Their advice has in practice been ignored.

The Labour leadership is happy with the electric cars narrative, leaving researchers and campaigners outside parliament to point out that electrification, without an immediate, giant shift towards public transport, cycling and walking – and away from individually-owned cars – will never come close to decarbonising transport at any meaningful pace.

In the run-up to the international climate talks in Glasgow in November, it is vital that the government’s cynical PR strategy is unmasked.

Support for electric cars was a highlight of the government’s ten-point plan for a “green industrial revolution”, announced in November. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030 – that is, after the most vital decade for action on climate has already passed.

Electric Car CC0 http://www.pixabay.com

The plan includes a promise of about £2.8 billion to subsidise manufacture of, and infrastructure for, electric cars – just over one-tenthof the cost of the £27 billion national road-building programme. (That, transport researchers say, will add 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) to the atmosphere where a 167 million tonne reduction is needed).

Labour called only for a tweak to the government’s plan – bringing forward the ban on hybrid vehicles from 2035 to 2030. Even Greenpeacesaid the electric car policy was the “star of the show”, needing only more support for delivery.

The seductive logic, shared across the political spectrum, is that the cost of electric cars will soon fall fast enough that motorists will snap them up.

The fact that electric cars are far from “zero carbon” gets lost. (See Note 1 below.) The fact that, if we don’t want global temperatures to go more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, emissions will have to be cut at more than twice the rate the government intends, gets lost too. (See Note 2.)

The voices of researchers who actually study the role of transport systems in the climate crisis need to be amplified.

Why the ten point plan makes no sense 

Although the 2030 phase out of petrol and diesel cars is welcome, “in reality it is a delaying tactic”, argued climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Dan Calverley in response to the ten-point plan. “Climate change requires immediate action, not a promise for action in ten years.”

The plan passes the buck of mitigating climate change to another government, several electoral cycles down the line. More importantly, it obliges our children to remove colossal quantities of (our) carbon directly from the atmosphere, or attempt to live with the consequences of dangerous climate change. […]

Far from being a ‘green revolution’, this is simply business as usual, where the predict-and-provide paradigm of car ownership and road building go hand in hand.

That last point was echoed by Nick Eyre of the Centre for Research on Energy Demand Solutions, a prominent UK energy policy researcher. The government plan is “very far from a coherent strategy”, he wrote.

It “reads like a shopping list of interesting technologies that might be grafted on to the existing energy system” – but “fails to recognise the more fundamental needs for change and links to other policy areas”.

The plan mentions £9.2 billion for public transport, cycling and walking – but “on closer inspection, none of this is new money”, Eyre pointed out. So that would just put pressure on austerity-damaged local councils … while the £27 billion road building plan stays in place – albeit under legal challenge.

For transport researchers, the electric-car-focused plan was proof of government indifference to their calls for integrated transport policy that reduces the number of car journeys, and the speed and number of cars, and boosts public transport, cycling and walking.

“If we really were committed to reducing climate-damaging carbon emissions […] we would cancel road building and switch all the funding to world-best joined up thinking about transport”, wrote John Whitelegg of the Foundation for Integrated Transport.

But of course the government is not really committed, at all. And Whitelegg pointed to one reason why … car culture, that is such a key element of 21st century capitalism:

The prioritisation of cars goes deeper. We allocate huge amounts of space to cars that could very easily be used for green space, affordable housing, trees and parks. We encourage anti-social, unpleasant pavement parking in residential areas so that children and other pedestrians have to walk in the middle of the road. There is no space for anyone with a pushchair or wheel chair. The car takes up space that belongs to the people and this is ignored by councils and central government.

University-based transport researchers have churned out dozens of articles, over years, explaining ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent one highlighted that in order to meet the climate targets implied in the 2015 Paris agreement, the UK would need, first, to ban hybrid cars (that can run on either petrol or electricity) as well as petrol and diesel ones, and, second, support “lifestyle and social change” that would alter the nature of journeys people need or want to make, and encourage non-car ways of making them:

Only the earlier phase-outs [of fossil-fuel-heavy vehicles] combined with lower demand for mobility and car ownership would make significant contributions to an emissions pathway that is both Paris-compliant [i.e. hits the targets set out at the international climate talks in Paris in 2015] and meets legislated urban air quality limits.

Engineering researchers come to similar conclusions via a different route. They reason that the best way to slash fuel use quickly – not in ten years’ time – is to cut the total weight of cars on the road.

Researchers at Cambridge published analysis showing that  “fostering vehicle weight reduction” could save more emissions by 2050 than current policies that focus on electrification – unless there is “an extreme decarbonisation” of the UK’s electricity grid, e.g. more than 50%.

Simple. Obvious. But resisted tooth and nail by motor manufacturers.

Thanks in large part to those companies, the average weight of cars in Europe has risen from 1320 kg in 2005 – when they already knew fine well about global warming – to more than 1400 kg now.

Cars on average carry 1.8 people, who weigh on average about one-twelfth of that … “so almost all petrol is used to move the car, not the people”, says the Absolute Zero report, which proposes how the UK could go to zero carbon with current technologies.

The authors’ scenarios imply that the UK could get to a place where non-fossil electricity generation is three times the current level, and transport without fossil fuels uses 60% of the energy it uses now. And that would mean:

Either vehicles are modified – with regenerative braking, reduced drag and rolling resistance (better tyres), and weight reductions, or we can choose to use them less – through ride-sharing, better freight management or an overall reduction in distance travelled.

Simple. Obvious. And because the motor manufacturers won’t hear of it, the government keeps away from it.

Changing transport systems, so that we can live more happily with fewer vehicle-kilometres, is not just about cars, or even just the roads and parking spaces. It is also about the design and layout of the cities in which we live.

Current transport and land use planning practice is “fundamentally unsustainable” at a time of climate emergency, warned a reportlast month by the Royal Town Planning Institute (hardly a bunch of rebellious eco-warriors).

It called for urban planning to be turned upside down to avoid locking-in “car dependent lifestyles”.

The report proposed a four-step pathway. The fourth step is “fuel switching”, i.e. electrification of transport.

But before that, the report urged, (i) “all new development” has to be “planned, designed and delivered to achieve net zero transport emissions”; (ii) demand for transport should be reduced “through local living”, i.e. remaking cities so that necessities (schools, doctors, shops, and so on) are within walking distance; and (iii) government should encourage a shift from private vehicles to walking, cycling and public transport.

Simple. Obvious. But of no interest to the property developers who rule the roost in urban planning.

Researchers vs politicians

Since policy is influenced so profoundly by the relations of wealth and power in society – by the motor manufacturers and property developers, by car culture –researchers who seek to advise government sometimes wonder whether they are hitting their heads against a brick wall.

Jillian Anable, one of the UK’s foremost transport specialists, vented her frustration at the University Transport Studies Group conference in 2019. “We are letting more and more water on board our Titanic, while our implements to bale ourselves out are getting increasingly ineffectual”, she said.

Three decades into the climate crisis, the transport sector is 98% dependent on fossil fuels, she reminded her colleagues.

“We need a profoundly more challenging mitigation agenda than the academic community has countenanced to date”, she argued. “We have to expose the gap between current measures and what needs to happen.” To “produce the knowledge we need to tell the truth”, research needs to go further, to “challenge the dominant frame held by policymakers” of “neoclassical engineering and microeconomic approaches”.

By implication at least, this call to go further was answered by Giulio Mattioli and his colleagues in an article published last year that highlighted five key elements of the “car-dependent transport system”: (i) the automotive industry; (ii) provision of car infrastructure; (iii) the political economy of urban sprawl; (iv) the provision (and, I would say, lack of provision) of public transport; and (v) cultures of car consumption.

This thorough analysis of the social and economic drivers obstructing decarbonisation concludes that:

Alternatives to car-dependent transport systems will have to be civic-minded, strategically coordinated for the public good […] Such alternatives can not benefit from a purported technocratic or apolitical presentation: instead, they should be argued for on the firm grounds of public coordination and delivery of public goods for all, while continually exposing the hidden workings of car-dependent transport systems.

This goes way beyond the framework of advising government that constrains so much work.

It underlines that the rift between research and politics – which has been so dramatically exposed in the last year with respect to the coronavirus – runs deep when it comes to climate change.

Where’s the opposition?

In the UK, this gulf between rational thinking and politics is deepened by the Labour party’s crisis. There is no functioning political opposition to the dysfunctional government.

Labour’s wimpish response to the government’s ten-point plan was just a symptom. Its own muddled climate policy is tied to discredited notions of pumping up “economic growth”. In fact the “green industrial revolution” slogan was coined by Labour and then stolen from it, and made infinitely more vacuous, by Boris Johnson and his corrupt cronies.

The gap between words and actions runs through Labour’s climate policies as it does the government’s. London mayor Sadiq Khan, arguably Labour’s most powerful elected politician, talks about tackling climate change – but his biggest spending decision has been to go ahead with the £2 billion Silvertown Tunnel project, which would help ensure there is more traffic in the coming decades, when it’s so vital that there is less.

The Labour-controlled Greater London Authority have simply ignored the reality that more roads produce more traffic, and defended the tunnel with the false argument – identical to the government’s – that electrification will make traffic “zero carbon”.

As campaigners in London (me included) have shown, the tunnel project is incompatible with London’s own emissions reductions targets, let alone those implied by the Paris climate conference.

How to turn the tide

So while politicians enthuse about electric cars, and motor manufacturers use them as greenwash, all the carbon emissions reductions from electric car use are being wiped out by the relentless rise in SUV use.

In 2020, a global reduction of oil use of about 2 million tonnes (40,000 barrels a day), achieved by people switching to electric cars, was “completely cancelled out by the growth in SUV sales over the same period”, research published last month by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed.

While more than 3 million electric and hybrid vehicles were sold in 2020, SUV sales fell – but only to about 27 million, bringing the world’s total SUV fleet to more than 280 million, up from less than 50 million in 2010.

And the SUVs made a noticeable contribution to climate change. Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions fell by about 7% in 2020, across all the categories the IEA tracks … except those from SUVs, which edged up by 0.5%.

What’s more, the electric vehicles being sold are getting larger and heavier, on average, earlier IEA research showed.

Clearly, meaningful action to tackle climate change and make city life better means cutting the total number of cars on the road. 

It means communities fighting for investment in cheap and free public transport and infrastructure for cycling, walking and genuinely energy-saving transport modes such as electric scooters. It means combating the influence of motor manufacturers and the car culture on which they thrive.

It means social and labour movements making common cause with workers in the motor industry, to seek ways to use their skills, without producing climate-wrecking gas guzzlers – as is starting to happen with aviation workers.

And it means recognising that electric cars – which, over the long term, can combine with fossil-free electricity generation as a means of transport – are not a short- or medium term fix for the climate emergency.

Note 1. Why EVs are not zero-emission

□ Calling electric vehicles (EVs) “zero emission” is meaningless propaganda. Greenhouse gases are emitted when the car and battery are manufactured, and very often from the power stations that produce the electricity. There are heated controversies about EVs’ lifecycle emissions, measured in grams per kilometre travelled (g/kw), compared to petrol and diesel cars. The bottom line of a recent study by Carbon Brief was that EVs in Europe are usually more than twice as carbon-efficient (i.e. twice as “clean”) as petrol and diesel cars, depending on the make and where the battery is produced. That analysis cast doubt on a headline-grabbing study by the IFO institute in Germany, which warned that EVs would “barely help to cut emissions”. Over time, EVs have the potential to improve carbon efficiency still further, compared to petrol cars, with better batteries and lower-carbon electricity.

□ Carbon Brief found that, in the EU, a Nissan Leaf used half the carbon emissions of an average petrol car on a lifecycle basis. Half is not “zero”.

□ Much depends on how the electricity is produced. In Paraguay or Iceland, where it comes from hydropower, the carbon “cost” of an EV is only that of making the car and battery. But in China or India, where most electricity is produced from coal and EV markets are growing rapidly, most EVs will do worse than comparable petrol cars in greenhouse gas terms. (This is one of many studies with numbers.)

□ Lifecycle assessments do not include emissions from building and maintaining roads and parking spaces, and the knock-on effect of discouraging non- and low-carbon forms of transport. (The numbers are complex. See Transport for Quality of Life’s work on the UK to get an idea.)

□ EV purchases do not necessarily mean that buyers are giving up petrol cars. Research from Norway, which has gone furthest in electrifying transport, shows that the availability of EVs has increased the proportion of families who own more than one car, and decreased the proportion that use public transport to commute.

□ Plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs), often counted as “low emission”, are being given low emission values from tests, but their real-world emissions are on average two-and-a-half times higher, a briefing by Transport & Environment reports. In 2017 in the UK, researchers fumed, a quarter of all plug-in cars registered were “an SUV in the form of a PHEV and one of the most polluting cars on the road”.

□ Apart from the carbon cost, EVs use metals, in particular lithium, that are mined in the global south under conditions that heap suffering on the people that live there. The huge expansion of EV manufacture envisaged by car companies implies a disastrous assault on those people. Some of the implications were examined by Jamie Morgan, an economist, in this article.

Note 2: Policies lag behind carbon budgets, which lag behind reality

Transport is the UK economic sector that accounts for the most greenhouse gas emissions (in 2019, 113 MtCO2e, 22% of the total). A report commissioned by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), a public body, said in December last year that transport emissions would have to be cut by 70% by the mid 2030s, for the government to meet its own climate targets.

These targets are expressed as “carbon budgets” covering five-year periods. The CCC warns that the government is unlikely to meet them: in the jargon, it is “off track” for the fourth (2023-27) and fifth (2028-32) carbon budgets.

In a letter sent to the government in October 2018, the CCC chair, Lord Deben, specified just how far off track. In 2030, when the CCC wants transport emissions down to around 68 MtCO2e/year, it a projected a 14 MtCO2e/year shortfall due to a “policy gap”, and a further 42 MtCO2e/year “at risk due to lack of firm policies and measures or those with delivery risks”.

In plain language: if the government does not get a grip (and there’s no sign of that, more than two years later), transport emissions could be more or less unchanged by 2030.

All that sounds bad enough. Worse still, climate scientists insist that the “carbon budgets”, on which government and CCC agree, would not even deliver half the necessary emissions cuts.

key research paper that takes the scientific conclusions of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, and applies the principle that rich countries should bear more of the burden (“common but differentiated responsibility”, in the jargon), gives the UK a carbon budget of 3700 MtCO2e for the whole 21st century – compared to the 9000 MtCO2e implied by the government’s targets.

The paper, by Kevin Anderson and others, assumes – unlike the government – that negative emissions technologies will play no substantial part in the next few decades. That means, the authors say, that the UK needs, starting now, to cut emissions by more than 10% per year – as opposed to the 5.1% implied by government targets.

The paper’s assumptions are very modest. That 3700 MtCO2e budget for the UK is based on an assumed global budget, for the 21st century, of 900 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e). A briefing paper by the ecological economist Tim Jackson, with a slightly different angle on the IPCC’s numbers, says the UK’s budget is 2500 MtCO2e, and the global budget 420 GtCO2e. It all depends on how much risk of going how far above 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial times you think makes sense.

In my view, caution is desirable with all these numbers, because discussion of them often implicitly assumes that politicians and diplomats at the climate negotiations have a right and duty to rule on these matters. I don’t think that, but I do think the science in the IPCC reports is a good place to start in working out our view on emissions cuts. But the government obviously does not.

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Glasgow Trade Unionists organise for COP26 and beyond

Stuart Graham writes about how trade unionists in Glasgow are organising for COP26 and beyond

Glasgow Trades Union Council (GTUC) attended the STUC Trades Councils conference on Sat 30 January and had requested that a session was added to deal with COP26 and the required level of mobilisation for the Nov summit.  Consequently 2 of the Glasgow delegates led the session to discuss the work started on one campaign (Free Our City campaign for free public transport) and the intention to devise another (along similar coalition-building type lines) around a retrofitting agenda for the city.  The opportunity to engage with Glasgow City Council on these issues has been presented by the fact that GCC declared a climate emergency in June 2019, published a list of recommendations from the Climate Emergency Working Group that considered the response and has subsequently undertaken public consultations on transport and the wider Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP).  While these are not always going to provide the desired solutions (indeed the transport proposals are particularly frustrating at this stage) this does provide some kind of opening to initiate genuine social dialogue and discuss what social protections are actually needed in the process of just transition. However, we need to ensure that such social dialogue remains genuine and capable of being a two-way conversation and not just a monologue with the option to tell the council in question how much you agree or disagree with an already defined endpoint.

As the provision of renewably-powered, free public transport is one of the significant, societal transformations that the Free Our City coalition (which includes GTUC) has identified as capable of delivering the just transition to a low carbon/carbon neutral economy, GTUC will be meeting with trades councils from the local authorities surrounding Glasgow to devise a common approach to take to the politicians which sit on the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet.  Bus service provision in Greater Glasgow cuts across local authority boundaries to such an extent that we will require a common mobilising agenda that is also capable of being adapted as we go.  Whether we view this solely from the perspective of municipal bus transit for a domestic population, or consider the amount of visitors we may be hosting come November (if the covid-19 vaccine roll-out permits an in-person attendance at COP26 that we were expecting pre-pandemic), we need to continue to make the case that the Bus Service Improvement Programmes (BSIPs) that continue to subsidise private companies like First Bus and Stagecoach, with public funds, are neither good enough nor capable of delivering what bus users across Greater Glasgow need.  Therefore irrespective of the current or anticipated positions of the various administrations which make up the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet, part of any campaign on public transport/buses needs to have the demand for public ownership and democratic control at its centre.  Public sector job creation – as drivers or mechanics as well that offered through renewables-focused supply lines – would also result from re-municipalization. 

GTUC are in the early stages of devising a local retrofitting campaign too and are watching with interest the progress of and obstacles to Leeds TUC’s retrofitting report and recommendations. Carbon emissions from domestic energy use/consumption remains a significant contribution to the city’s overall emissions levels, and while GCC’s CEIP has a commitment to a retrofitting programme, it is nowhere at the scale or level of ambition which will be required to retrofit all of the city’s homes, which will have different specifications depending on property types, ranging from multi-storey flats to tenemental and four-in-a-block properties.  While still in its very early stages, what is known about the scale of the retrofitting task ahead of us all, is that it has massive, public sector job creation potential and this is what we want to see.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs created to carry out the deep retrofitting of all homes, with the associated training available to those who want to work in this sector, as well as for those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic or are finding it particularly difficult as they are younger workers with little to no work experience because of the lack of real job opportunities (both pre- and mid-pandemic) and being forced into precarious work.  We will once again attempt to do so through coalition-building, and hope that Living Rent will also be one of the coalition partners due to its status and work as the only tenants union in the city.  

We appreciate that the priorities detailed are specific to Glasgow/Greater Glasgow and rely upon the demands of urban societies/economies.  And we know that some of the more rural local authorities/trades councils eg. Highlands & Islands, will have significantly differing demands, including a greater reliance on electrical vehicles.  Once known, these aspects can be better articulated, but will take some time to properly assess.  However, the proposal is to use one, other or both campaigns as a mobilising template or impetus which trades councils can then use to build coalitions and bespoke campaigning agendas around.  Transport and housing affect everyone – so the aim is to try and harness the energy that type of appeal can bring as a common mobilising agenda across trades councils.  Scottish trades councils will be meeting more regularly throughout 2021 under these and other auspices, to bring their affiliates under the banner of the COP26 coalition and call for more participation and action at all levels, and as we (in Glasgow at least) will definitely be here for the Nov summit, to build for it as if we are expecting a million people are (still?) coming to town.

Free Our City

Scot.E3 is a sponsor and supporter of Free Our City – the campaign for free public transport in Glasgow. This is the campaign’s response to a consultation by Glasgow City Council.

Dear Sustainable Glasgow team,

Please accept this as Free Our City’s response to your consultation on the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan.

Founded in September 2020, Free Our City is a new coalition of community organisations, local trade unions and environmental groups, campaigning for a world class, fully-integrated public transport network which is free and the point of use.

Free public transport is already in place in hundreds of forward-thinking towns and cities across the world from Tallinn in Estonia, Calais in France and Kansas City in the US – where this policy is rightly seen as the only realistic way of addressing persistent poverty and inequalities and tackling the climate emergency with the urgency that we need.

The Free Our City coalition’s aim is to bring these brilliant examples from around the world to Glasgow, to raise our city’s ambitions (please read our manifesto attached). We were inspired by the Recommendations of the Climate Emergency Working Group (CEWG), which were approved by Glasgow City Council on 26 September 2019. These included the commitment to:


“engage with interested local authorities and other stakeholders and undertake a formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use” (Recommendation 20)

As well as the commitments to investigate the new powers available in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 – for re-regulating buses using ‘franchising’ and for greater public ownership – as the most efficient and affordable way to deliver a fully-integrated public transport network, with the potential to become fare-free (Recommendations 17 and 19).

Responding to the launch of Free Our City in September 2020, a spokesperson for Glasgow City Council acknowledged that without utilising these new powers, free public transport would not be “viable”. They said:


“At the very least, it would require public ownership – the alternative being taxpayers write a blank cheque for private operators, with little say in the service.” Quoted in The Herald, 6 September 2020

Further to this, on 29 October 2020, Glasgow City Council approved a motion “welcoming” the Free Our City campaign (see full text below). We therefore fully-expected the CEWG’s Recommendations on public transport to be at the heart of the “major transformative action” proposed by the Council’s Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP).

Unfortunately, the CEIP’s proposed actions on transport lack any ambition. Instead of the CEWG’s Recommendations to fully-utilise the new powers available in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, the CEIP has opted to ‘explore these issues’ through:


“ongoing work on Bus Service Improvement Partnerships, as required by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 and Transport Scotland funding programmes.” (p.60)

Firstly, it is untrue that Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPs) are “required” by the Transport Act: BSIPs are just one of several options now available to local authorities, and they are the one least likely to deliver the changes we need. Despite the excellent Recommendations of the CEWG, and previous commitments made in the Council’s Strategic Plan (Priority 57), the Council appears to be actively choosing the option to “write a blank cheque for private operators, with little say in the service”.

Nowhere in the CEIP is there any indication of the need to regulate and reduce bus fares, when it is obvious that this is what is necessary to “tackle persistent issues of poverty and deprivation in the city” (p.12) and build a “just and more equal city” (p.7), and to encourage those accustomed to driving to give up their cars. Fare reductions on the scale that we need are just not possible through the ‘partnership’ model, as private operators will never voluntarily agree to anything that threatens their shareholders’ profit.

Why should Glasgow’s poorest people be faced with single bus fares of £2.50 on privatised First Glasgow, when fares in Edinburgh are only £1.80 on publicly-owned Lothian Buses, and fares in London are only £1.50 on buses regulated by Transport for London? And when people in Kansas City, Tallinn, Calais, Dunkirk and many other places can travel around their local areas for free?

We fundamentally reject the CEIP’s proposed actions on transport. Instead we demand that the Council works with SPT to deliver the following actions that are the our route map to the free public transport that we need:

  1. Re-regulate the region’s buses using new ‘franchising’ powers – plan the network properly to reach isolated communities and to integrate seamlessly with other transport modes (trains and Subway). Impose an immediate cap on fares.
  2. Set-up a new publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow and start taking over routes one-by-one, or buy-out First Glasgow. 
  3. Once costs have been brought under control, we can begin to roll out free fares for all (we currently give more than £300 million in public subsidies to private bus companies annually in Scotland and deregulation and privatisation is a really inefficient way of using this).


Unless the Council actually commits to the “major transformative action” necessary to sort out our incoherent and overpriced public transport network – learning from the best examples from towns and cities around the world – then the ambition to become “one of the most sustainable cities in Europe” (p.6) is just laughable.

We look forward to hearing the outcomes of the consultation and to seeing the Council act to deliver a public transport network which works in the interests of our city’s people and our environment.

Best wishes,

Free Our City

Launch event – Free Our City

A message from Free Our City

To address the climate emergency and tackle persistent poverty, hundreds of cities across the world – from Kansas to Calais – are making their public transport networks free for everyone to use. We think Glasgow should too!

Free Our City is a new coalition of community, trade union and environmental groups campaigning for Glasgow to be the next city to make its public transport free (see our leaflet attached).

If you would like to find out more, please join us for our free online conference & launch event on Saturday 19 September, 11am – 1pm

We’ll be joined by speakers from different cities around the world to share their experiences of campaigning for, implementing and living with the many benefits of free public transport. They’ll be opportunities to ask questions and breakout sessions to discuss how to develop, get involved in and work together to win the campaign in Greater Glasgow.

The event will be on Zoom. Please ensure you register in advance on Eventbrite, so we can email you the log-in details for the event. It will also be live streamed on Facebook.

Register for the event here: https://freebuses.eventbrite.com

We believe public transport in Glasgow should be free, but we want to hear what you think!

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

Alexander Dennis – time for action

Alexander Dennis, based in Falkirk, is internationally important as a manufacturer of double decker buses.  In the wake of Covid19 it faces a short-term decline in orders.  The response of its new owners, Canadian firm NFI, is to cut 650 jobs.

Clean, sustainable public transport is a critical part of the transition to a zero-carbon economy and Alexander Dennis is a world leader in building all-electric and hydrogen powered buses.  The skills of the workforce at Alexander Dennis will be essential in reshaping the way we use energy, the way we produce and the way we live in response to the climate crisis.  Sacking 650 workers will blight lives, wreck futures and set back the struggle for a just transition to a new sustainable economy.  

In an excellent article in today’s Source Direct Ben Wray notes that the company is asking the government to buy the buses that private operators are not buying at the moment.  We do need government action, but as we argued recently in ‘Save Lives, Save Jobs, Save the Planet’ such action needs to be planned and systemic.  It needs to tackle issues of safe public transport and it needs to look forward to the zero-carbon future.  The private sector is incapable of this kind of joined up thinking.  Saving jobs, skills and livelihoods at Alexander Dennis should be seen as part of the broader campaign of taking public transport into public control.

All the signs are, however, that any Scottish Government action is unlikely to measure up to either the immediate crisis in Falkirk or the longer-term crisis of climate.  There is a huge gap between the government’s rhetoric on just transition and just recovery and their actions.  So how do we turn this round?  I’d argue that to make progress we need to think in terms of a ‘worker led just transition’.  It’s hard, but collectively we need to take every opportunity to turn the slogan into real action.  At a time of public health and climate crisis, when the wealth of the super-rich is rocketing up, and the Westminster government is spending billions on contracts to their friends and bailouts to big business, redundancies in carbon-saving jobs are unacceptable.  One option would be for Alexander Dennis workers to refuse to accept redundancy and occupy the factory.  Combined with a public campaign for socially useful production as a part of a just transition this would have huge resonance in Scottish society and could provide common cause to the trade union and climate movements.  The 1971 occupation of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders is a model – but this could be so much bigger.

Save Lives, Save Jobs, Save the Planet

Support Alexander Dennis Workers

Take Public Transport and Public Transport vehicle production into public ownership

Pete Cannell

Dennis Enviro 400XLB by dmilburn007 CC BY SA 4.0

Public transport use in Scotland in decline

The decision by the Scottish Government to extend free bus travel to under 19 year olds is a small but positive step.  However, the latest Transport for Scotland Report published yesterday (27th February 2020) shows that the number of bus journeys undertaken is continuing to fall while car usage is rising.  The steepest fall in bus use is in the Highlands and Islands while the decline is least in South East Scotland.  The data in the report doesn’t break down regions by public transport provider but the relatively small decline in the South East is almost certainly a result of increased numbers using publicly run Lothian Buses.

In 2107 transport accounted for 36.8% of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions.  Cars were the biggest contributor accounting for almost 40% of the total.  Cutting the use of polluting car transport is a critical part of shifting to a zero carbon future.  Simply replacing petrol and diesel by electric would put huge pressure on natural resources that are in short supply and whose extraction causes major environmental damage.  The answer must surely be a comprehensive, flexible and well connected public transport system that has electric buses as a key component and is free to users.  There is good evidence that low or free fares results in a massive increase in public transport use.

800px-Lothian_Buses_Envrio400XLB_1071

One of Lothian’s new 100 seat Envrio400XLB buses.  CC-BY-SA 4.0