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Scottish Parliament Speech: Bus Transport (June 2008)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I will address themes that are raised in Age Concern's paper on the situation for the elderly, as I suspect that we heroic band of wrinklies have contributed rather more than Mr Johnstone's politicians to the relative rise in the use of bus transport over the past couple of years.

The graph that I am holding up shows that in 1983 there were about 650 million bus journeys a year. Today, that figure has declined to about 480 million journeys a year. That has happened at a time when the pressures on the oil supply have been demonstrated by the price per barrel of oil, which has increased fourteenfold since 1999. In fact, we may now be at a clinch position such that, within the next 20 years, we shall have to say farewell to our conventional notions of motoring. If that means saying farewell to Jeremy Clarkson, I am all in favour. It is dreadful to think that, instead of Clarkson, we once had the marvellous cultural phenomenon that was - alas no more - the Central Scottish clippie, who could do wonders for fashion with hairpins and dayglo ties and things like that.

Today, the situation in Scotland is that on average we travel about 120 times a year by bus. In Germany, where people do not have concessionary fares, they travel about 240 times a year by bus. The Swiss - not a nation noted for impoverishment - travel anything up to 420 times a year by their enormous and varied forms of public transport. In my town of Tübingen in Germany, our bus patronage increased by 300 per cent between 1995 and 2006, from 6 million passengers to 18 million passengers. If we compare that with the Scottish situation, we realise how well Europe has been doing on bus transport.

How do those countries do that? They have co-ordination and accurate timekeeping. Here, anyone who attempts to take the number 35 bus will have a good saga of what we might call wilfulness on the part of bus routes. There, the buses turn up on time and the driver's cab includes a thing that goes "Ping!" to show the driver which stop he ought to be at. They also have interavailability of tickets.

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

We have a common cause, although I think that even Mr Johnstone supported the trams. When we have a tramway, we will have the natural progress of a rise in bus patronage because buses will have to become more efficient.

An important point is that 80 per cent of German bus passengers travel on season tickets, so buses need to spend seconds, rather than minutes, at each stop. A bus that is paused, like a tram that is paused, is a piece of totally useless metal; buses need to be in circulation all the time. That happens in Germany but not here.

I agree with Help the Aged's programme: we need convenience, effective timetabling and good toilets. Alas, I have reached the Mr Godfrey stage, where that last point is becoming very important.

The skill and dedication of our bus crews are undeniable - anyone who takes an X95 out on the A7 needs the reflexes of a battle of Britain pilot - but we must have better management. We must also look at competition policy as a way of, if necessary, banging heads together. However, co-ordination can also be achieved in that way.

The bus is our future. If we miss it - thinking in global terms - there will not be another one along ever.

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