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Why can we fix public transport for COP26, but not for Glasgow’s residents?

While I was driving into the city the other day, I saw a sign above the M8 that read “COP26 IN TOWN. THINK BUS/TRAIN”. 

There’s a couple of ironies present in that sentence. First, I drove into town and I’m writing an article about the pressing need for reliable, fast, and intuitive public transport, but we’ll confront that irony later. The second irony is that Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) and Glasgow City Council only started thinking about public transport when COP26 came to town.

I know the sign is more directed at motorway users, warning them of greater congestion during the conference. However, it also screams greenwashing. Glasgow’s residents have been lobbying their council and public transport providers for god-knows-how-long about improving the quality of the city’s public transport. Consistently they have been ignored, until a bunch of dignitaries come to town to talk politely about climate change. Only then did Glasgow introduce the intuitive transport passes you’ve all been asking for. The subway’s opening hours were extended on a Sunday, too. But don’t get your hopes up – it’s not for you lot! The travel passes were for conference attendees only, and the Subway hours have reverted now that the conference is over.

I am loath to use the term “virtue signalling”, but is that not what this is? 

When a conference about climate change is in town, changes can be made to improve public transport; when citizens ask for this any other time, though, it’s not doable. It’s saying “we care about the planet” to the world, whilst continuing to make transport difficult to navigate for the people who live here.  

The fact is, if we want to save Earth, public transport needs to be fast, intuitive, cheap, and more attractive than driving. As such, you need to be able to use it at all hours of the day – even, god-forbid, 12 minutes past six on a Sunday evening.

"The fact is, if we want to save Earth, public transport needs to be fast, intuitive, cheap, and more attractive than driving."

The subway extensions seem especially egregious. It’s hard to imagine any good reason why the subway needs to shut so early every non-COP Sunday. In response to the backlash, SPT bosses cited festive opening hours – apparently, the fact that they are open a bit later around Christmas makes up for this discrepancy between COP26 and every other Sunday. Really, it just exposes the fact that SPT wants money. They’ll extend their service hours when there’s an extra penny or two to be made. 

Yes, of course there are other ways to get around Glasgow: “THINK BUS/TRAIN”! But those are all riddled with flaws, too, including the price of bus and train tickets, or the inability of Scotrail, Stagecoach, FirstBus or McGills to properly pay their drivers, resulting in unreliable services. Though, let’s be honest, every second Scotrail train was already cancelled.

I said earlier about my own hypocrisy - how I regularly drive into the city from Ayrshire. My decision to drive regularly is symptomatic of the problems mentioned. For example, the x76 bus service from Kilmarnock to Glasgow that I rely on had its times slashed due to a shortage of drivers (a result of Stagecoach’s long hours and subpar pay). We need to make driving the least attractive option for people, and to do that we need permanent improvements to public transport – not measures to make the city look good or accessible to people arriving here for COP26.

Sure, extending the running hours of the Subway on a Sunday by a few hours won’t stop the Earth from burning, but it’s an example of one of the small changes that are needed in order to build a better transport system and, in turn, confront the climate crisis.


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