Environmental and transport campaigners have hit out at First Bus for providing free travel to COP26 delegates while “constantly cutting lifeline bus services” for Glasgow residents.
First said the shuttle service will make use of its brand new fleet of 22 fully electric buses. The company claimed it is a “leader in sustainable mobility”. It is fully aligned with the government’s net-zero plans for the transport system, the firm added.
But First has previously been criticised for the standard of bus services in Glasgow. Last December it was criticised for cutting “essential” bus routes despite receiving almost £300m in public money, including Covid-19 bail-outs.
In 2019 it was condemned for failing to make use of public funds to retrofit buses so that they produced less air pollution.
Green groups argue the firm’s cuts to bus services in the city had left many of its residents “stranded or pushed into unaffordable car ownership”. They say the conference is “a perfect time to trial free public transport for all”, and it would be unfair if delegates benefit from free travel while Glaswegians get “nothing but delays and inconvenience”.
First was appointed as the operator of the delegate shuttle service following a tender process run by the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) on behalf of the Scottish and UK Governments.
The results of a transport consultation published earlier this year found that only 16 per cent of Glasgow’s residents believe its bus services meet their needs.
The survey, which was held by Glasgow City Council and had nearly 3,000 responses from residents, regular visitors and stakeholder groups, found almost two thirds of Glaswegians (64 per cent) did not think buses were up to scratch.
The bus network –of which First is the main provider – was unreliable, too pricey, and routes did not go where people wanted them to, they said in the survey.
Among solutions the city council is considering to solve the bus problems are bus franchising, free public transport, and municipal-owned bus services. The local authority was given £3.65m by the Scottish Government in August to “tackle the negative impacts of congestion” and make journeys quicker and more reliable.
The shuttle service will run for the duration of the COP26 conference and take delegates to the UK-managed ‘green zone’, being held at the Hydro, and the UN-managed ‘blue-zone’, located at the SEC.
First has called on Glaswegians to familiarise themselves with diversions and transport plans in order to prevent traffic deadlock during the event.
“First Bus regularly recoups huge profits while constantly cutting lifeline bus services, leaving people stranded or pushed into unaffordable car ownership,” he said.
“Public transport should not be a profit-making industry. If we run our buses in the public interest, we can create a comprehensive network that takes cars off the road, reduces emissions and improves air quality.
“Delegates to COP – including politicians and world leaders – will receive free public transport during the two weeks, while Glasgwegians get nothing except, probably, delays and inconvenience. COP is a perfect time to trial free public transport for all.”
However Duncan Cameron, interim managing director of First Bus, in Scotland, said the company was “delighted” to have been chosen to operate the official COP26 shuttle service.
“It has been a long time in the planning and it is exciting to now be in the build up to the event officially,” he added.
“As leaders in sustainable mobility, we are fully aligned with the Government’s ambitions for a net-zero carbon transport system, including zero-emission bus fleets. We have already committed to achieving this by 2035 and we look forward to showcasing this to delegates over the course of the event.”
Featured photo thanks to Verenigd Koninkrijk at Unsplash.