Public transport is never far from the headlines, especially during price-hike season at the start of the year. Those who rely on buses to get about their lives, including young people, are used to seeing inflation-busting increases. But when McGill’s Buses announced plans to scrap their student day ticket it seems they bit off more than they could chew. Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament Josh Kennedy was quick off the mark with a petition to save the ticket, which has over 5000 signatures. And Green MSP Ross Greer was pretty scathing about the move both on social media and during his member’s debate in the Scottish Parliament.
Naturally McGill’s weren’t very happy with all this attention and sought to justify the change. One excuse that really stood out was the claim that no other bus company offered a discounted day ticket for students. It’s not exactly clear how that would let them off the hook, since it just shows everyone else was already taking advantage of student passengers. Student day tickets filled an important gap between single fares and weekly tickets, especially given many students aren’t in college or uni five days a week. Without them, students are having to pay substantially higher fares for other ticket types.
It’s important to remember as well that not all young people are students. Especially given the lower minimum wage set for apprentices and under 25’s, being considered an adult in terms of age doesn’t equate to the financial capability to pay full fares. Throw in the prevalence of zero-hours contracts which make it impossible to be sure you’ll have the shifts to make weekly tickets worth the expense and there’s just no winning for too many young bus passengers.
There’s since been progress on McGill’s at least consulting with young people before making such changes in future, but the whole stramash is another reminder of how poorly served we are when essential public services are in private hands. It’s not just fares that are the problem either. Private bus companies rush to carve out the most profitable routes, but what about everywhere else? Either the public end up paying through the nose to subsidise private operators running on them anyway – or go totally without. A lack of quality, affordable public transport is just another thing acting to push many young people out of their home communities. It’s not good enough.
That’s why Greens have long been calling for progress on bus re-regulation. Rather than the public sector subsidising essential routes whilst private operators cream the profit off others, we could be using those profits to expand networks. Municipal bus companies, locally run and locally accountable, can be far more responsive. They can give people a genuine say over routes and fare structures. And of course if we’re to make serious progress in combating climate change, we need public transport to be an easy option for people. It’s time the private sector stopped taking young people for a ride – let’s put young people, and other bus users, in the driving seat of a public transport revolution.