Glasgow Subway. Credit: Unsplash

Is Glasgow’s public transportation system actually serving its citizens?

By Andrew Taylor

Writer Andrew Taylor explores how Glasgow can improve its transportation system to better support the city’s students and the environment.

Across the UK, ongoing strike action does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Organised by unions and workers, these strikes aim to secure better working conditions and a higher rate of pay in line with inflation, which is approximately 10% of a rail worker’s current salary. With dissatisfaction from students and workers across Glasgow over high prices and low accessibility, as well as further news that rail workers are planning to strike throughout December – why is Glasgow’s public transport system not doing enough to support its citizens?

With the current housing crisis within Glasgow, the ability to travel is even more essential than before. In 2019, a Glasgow Student Forum showed that out of 8,600 students in the city, 31% of them had missed class due to the price of ticket fares. This has led to a high number of students considering dropping out, or facing poverty. Additionally, students and workers from outside the city are struggling, with off-peak train tickets increasing by over a third within the last 10 years. Travelling for essential classes or a typical Monday-Friday nine-to-five job means many are forced to pay increasing prices for high train fares, in addition to having to consider subway or bus links.

A solution for this could be a singular transport ticket for across different sectors. A recent example of this within Europe is Germany, which has recently introduced an unlimited travel ticket, covering the entire country, with the aim to lower carbon emissions and assist its citizens with cheaper fares. This will cost 49€ a month – the current equivalent to £1.40 a day. Perhaps one method of implementing this lies with Scotland’s largest regional transporting partnership: Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT). 

SPT has been placed under public scrutiny, with campaigners from Get Glasgow Moving rallying to demand a decrease in the fare of public transport. Alongside dozens of supporters, Ellie Harrison, a chair member of the organisation is challenging SPT for a more affordable “fare and integrated ticketing across train, bus, and subway”. Another UK movement towards this is Left Foot Forward: a UK news site, which emphasises the importance of all SPT authorities uniting and creating a singular bus pass. They have highlighted the dramatic fall of bus journeys (121 million fewer journeys between 2007 and 2019), the importance of reducing fares for people across the UK, as well as the effect public transport is having on the climate.

In 2017, transport accounted for 37% of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. A solution to reducing this and providing cheaper fares for people within Glasgow would be the introduction of electric vehicles. Hoping to assist people and lower carbon emissions at the same time, the UK government has announced that £198.3 million will go towards providing 943 electric buses. Within Glasgow, First Bus has shared plans to introduce 126 new electric buses before March 2023, as part of their zero emission mission 2035. Electric vehicles are typically cheaper to run in terms of fuel costs, and are capable of giving off zero emissions. With battery charging cheaper than fuelling a regular bus, would it be fair to assume a drop in ticket prices? 

Another method of transport that aims at reducing carbon emissions is the electric scooter. Currently, the inclusion of electric scooters is being trialled in many different locations within England, with the intention of being able to gain quicker, easy access, with no emissions, and lower traffic congestion. With successful tests, these cheap, easily accessible vehicles could be considered for Glasgow. Not only would this benefit areas that lack public transport, but would assist those that commute outside of transport hours – allowing for people that finish work at 3am to get home quicker and safer.

In January 2022, the Scottish Government introduced the Young Person’s (Under 22s) Free Bus Travel. This could be altered to encompass more people, such as mature students or essential workers, who are currently struggling financially under the cost-of-living crisis. Furthermore, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has frozen ScotRail fares until at least March 2023. However, with Scottish Rail Holdings Limited, which oversees the development of ScotRail, now owned by the Scottish government, perhaps a reduction on train fares would be better suited to assist the Scottish public than a temporary freeze on rising train fares. Furthermore, despite continuing negotiations between rail workers and ScotRail the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ ongoing strike ballot remains live, meaning strike action could be implemented at any point over the next six months.. With prices and inflation rising, perhaps the fault lies with ScotRail, from whom rail workers are only asking for the equivalent to their own worth?

These continuous strikes are disadvantageous to many travelling to, from, and within Glasgow – from students being forced to miss class to essential workers struggling with the cost-of-living at home. With many demanding an unlimited travel card across all SPT services and freezing fares only offering a temporary solution, it is clear local authorities need to act decisively to improve conditions for Glasgow residents.


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