The Scottish Government has revealed it subsidises bus services that have been cut by private firms by £60 million a year – all taxpayers’ money.
Falkirk Councillor Craig R Martin, who is campaigning for councils to have more control over local bus services, says the revelation shows how transport companies are putting ‘profits before people’.
The councillor said around 23 services have been either scrapped or reduced by First Midland Bluebird in the Falkirk area over the past four years. Meanwhile, FirstGroup reported a statutory pre-tax profit of £113.5 million for the 12 months to the end of March this year.
And while transport companies like First are making profits as they cut bus services, the Scottish Government says it has provided funding for local authorities to deliver nearly £60 million a year to support their local bus services.
In addition to this, a further annual grant of £50 million is given to support the country’s bus network, “directly to operators”. Falkirk Council is spending over £1 million this year on bus subsidies.
Dr Martin said: “How can First justify getting millions of pounds of grants to put on bus services they say they can’t afford to run while also having pre-tax profits of over £100 million. It is time to put passengers first before profits.”
A First Midland Bluebird spokesperson said: “Government support to bus passengers equates to just 25p per person compared with £9.30 per rail passenger. We have a responsibility to our customers and employees to operate a sustainable business and are undertaking significant investment in our services. For example, we have invested £4.5 million in 30 new single deck buses for Larbert depot in the past two years.
“We are committed to developing services and encouraging patronage despite continuing pressure, including the significant challenges that congestion and increased car usage present.”
Dr Martin added: “The SNP Scottish Government need to act now to fix the broken bus market. Bus passengers across Falkirk are losing out – vital services have been cut back and fares are going up. Too many communities aren’t getting the bus services they deserve because bus firms are picking and choosing the most profitable routes.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Transport Minister recently met bus operators, local and regional transport organisations as well as users representatives where it was agreed they would work together to improve services and to increase passenger numbers.
“We have invested nearly a quarter of a billion pounds every year in support of bus services, concessionary travel and more incentives for the take up of cleaner, greener vehicles.
“Through an annual grant we also provide over £50m every year to support the bus network – investment which goes directly to operators to support bus services and help make fares more affordable for passengers. The latest data shows that fares in Scotland have increased more slowly than in the rest of the UK.
“We also provide nearly £200m through the national concessionary travel scheme to give 1.3 million older and disabled people free bus travel right across Scotland, while also provide the funding for local authorities to deliver nearly £60m a year to support their local bus services.
“We are committed to promoting positive change and partnership working to improve bus services and are currently developing proposals for a transport bill which will include measures to further improve bus services.”