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).
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.
Scot.E3 is part of the Free Our City campaign which launches with a conference on 19th September. We’re demandinga 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 . 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,  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 . 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.
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 . 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 .
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 .
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 .
 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.
 By the end of 2020, as many as 1 in 3 young Scots could be unemployed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
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
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.