Few things evoke such overwhelming frustration and powerlessness as dysfunctional public transport does. Yes, of course there are innumerable more serious things in the world, but a broken public transport system is no trifle in the face of climate change.
There have been few times in my life when I wished I had a car more than when I missed my boyfriend’s football match because the UL bus just wouldn’t come. I waited for it for over 30 minutes but only saw it drive by three times in the opposite direction. Finally, I gave up and went home – the match had already started without me – when I saw two ULs driving bumper to bumper, carefree, as if that was the way buses were meant to run.
Stirling buses are routinely late, provided they come at all, ruling them out as a transport option for any precise appointments and urgent events if a car is in the mix too.
And on top of that, there’s the prices. A ride in a car to the scenic Callander for a day trip from Stirling costs about the same whether you take the car or the bus. If you take a friend in the car with you, the price is halved down. If you take two or three friends, the bus fare seems ridiculous.
But it’s obvious that petrol cars are not a viable way forward and the prices of electric cars soar still too high. Our car addiction needs an intervention.
The BBC reports that less than half of British children walk to school anymore, a dramatic fall from 70% a generation ago (source). The cities are becoming more and more congested, unnecessarily prolonging our commuting times and polluting the air. According to the BBC, in the UK, US, and other Western countries, transport sector emits more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector, and it releases about a quarter of the global CO2 emissions.
Buses could come to the rescue, hopefully on time. If you take a local bus, the journey emits only about half of the greenhouse gases that a single person driving a car would. (source)
Let’s say your average bus has around 30 seats. This might sound like one of your primary school math exercises but bear with me. Based on the statistics from Transport Scotland (source), the average number of people in one car is 1.5. That means a full bus removes about 20 cars off the road. Traffic jams solved.
But for buses to be truly appealing and convince people to leave their cars parked at home, the system needs to change – the prices must be lower and the service more frequent and reliable.
Going exactly the opposite way, First Bus recently announced they were reducing the 54 and 57 buses to an hourly timetable from their current half an hour one and cancelling the X53 bus connecting Stirling to Kinross.
The changes are due to take place tomorrow, 10 January. The company blames them on the lack of European drivers and staff shortages induced by COVID-19. Climate change must wait, businesses can’t cope with more than two existential threats at once – and Brexit and the pandemic are here now, not in 2050.
Mark Ruskell, the Scottish Green MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, launched a petition to save the X53. More than 600 people have already signed it, yet their signatures don’t seem to bother First Bus.
Regarding bus fares, we can look for inspiration in Luxembourg. This tiny European country was the first and so far the only in the world to make all its public transport free. No fares, no tickets, you can just hop on and off the buses and trains as you please. The money for it comes from general taxation, which hits higher taxpayers the most, bringing a sense of social equity to the public transport system.
Scotland is taking the first steps in this direction too. From the end of January, bus travel will be free for under-22s. We can only hope this is just the beginning. Because if I was given a car right now, you wouldn’t see me using the bus again until the prices are lower, and the bus won’t leave me waiting in the freezing cold.
Featured image credit: Jamie Cooke on Flickr
Fourth year journalism student at the University of Stirling and Brig's politics editor.
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