Scottish Greens back ‘long-term’ aim of free public transport at party conference

Ben Wray

John Finnie MSP: “The aim of fare-free public transport is about fairness and reducing inequalities”

MEMBERS of the Scottish Greens have backed a motion at their party conference supporting free public transport as a long-term ambition.

The party supported a motion on Sunday [21 October] stating: “We advocate for fare-free access to public transport. Until this is achieved we will support calls for subsidised travel for all those who require it, such as but not limited to who are elderly, disabled, carers, unemployed, children & young people, those in full time education or on low incomes. This subsidy must be at least a 50 per cent reduction on standard fares.”

Commenting on the passing of the motion, Transport spokesperson for the Scottish Greens John Finnie MSP stated: “Greens are already campaigning for better buses and more reliable rail services, and our MSP group will make the most of the Transport Bill coming to Parliament. Longer term, the aim of fare-free public transport is about fairness and reducing inequalities, as we want to make society more accessible for everyone while also reducing dependence on private car travel.

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“Transport across Scotland places a large financial barrier to many people who rely on buses and trains to get to work, education and health appointments. Extending subsidised fares to widen access makes sense as we work toward a goal of a public transport system that like other public services is free at the point of need.”

Free public transport has worked succesfully and been highly popular in the Estonian capital of Tallinn since 2013, so much so that on 1 July this year the Estonian Government introduced the option of free bus travel across the country.

“We earned double as much as we have lost since introducing free public transport. We’re happy to see that so many people are motivated to register as residents in Tallinn to make use of free public transport,” Allan Alaküla, Head of Tallinn European Union Office, said earlier this year.

READ MORE: Majority of Scots back public ownership of bus services, new poll finds

A study of the impact of the Estonian system showed that while public transport usage had increased 14 per cent, car usage was down just 5 per cent, as the system also had the effect of those walking and cycling taking public transport round the city more. However, it was clear that free public transport had benefited those on the lowest incomes most.

Free public transport has been a long held policy of the Scottish Socialist Party, and was backed by the RISE radical left coalition during the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections campaign.

A recent progress report by the committee on climate change examining the Scottish Government’s carbon emission reduction efforts showed that emissions from transport had risen over the past five years.

ANALYSIS: Scotland’s bus regulations have barely changed since Thatcher – is it not time for public ownership?

A Panelbase poll commissioned by the Scottish Greens in July showed 58 per cent of Scots believed buses should be in public ownership, with only 15 per cent believing they should be privately run.

The Scottish Government’s draft Transport Bill advocates council-run bus services only on routes deemed unprofitable by the private sector.

Bus fares have increased 5 per cent in real terms over the past five years, while the number of users is down 10 per cent.

Maggie Chapman, co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, backed the motion in favour of free public transport during her speech to open the Scottish Greens conference on Saturday, in which she stated that following the publication of the IPCC report which showed how close the world is to climate catastrophe without a rapid green transition “a simple choice between socialism and barbarism has never been more true”.

The party also backed a motion on Saturday supporting a UK-wide People’s Vote on any Brexit deal between the UK and the EU.

Picture courtesy of Schnitzel_bank