TWO OF Scotland’s most successful businessmen, James and Sandy Easdale, have accused the Scottish Government of creating a major crisis in the bus industry.
McGill’s Bus Group is Scotland’s largest independent owner. Company Chairman James Easdale responding to criticism of service cuts through the country, said: “The bus industry is now having its own crisis and I lay the responsibility firmly at the door of the Government in Holyrood.
“Buses have always been very light touch for the SNP administration which is illogical in so many ways. For a start so many of their supporters rely on our services to get them to work and school, attend hospital appointments or go shopping.
Joint owner of the company Sandy Easdale added:” It’s when you look at the insane economics of Scotrail, now owned by the government, that you realise there is a severe lack of joined up thinking. Seven quid for a rail trip from Glasgow to Edinburgh is economic madness and remember it’s the taxpayer who is really footing the bill for that.
“The cost of running a rail network in a country with the landmass of 42% of the UK but the population of under 9% is disproportionately high. This takes a lot of subsidy – the Scotrail revenues don’t even cover their wage bill – and is now coming into sharp focus given the hard times that bus users are going through.
“Each bus journey is supported to the tune of 27p by the Scottish government whilst train passengers enjoy support of £3.27 for every trip.
“This all adds up to £55m support for bus users and £1.5Bn support for rail passengers. You would be forgiven for thinking that rail then must be the main mode of public transport in Scotland…it is not. 75% of public transport journeys are made on bus whilst only 20% are made on train. If you are unlucky enough to pay a fare on a bus, you get an outrageously bad deal whilst the reverse is very true on train with fares subsidised to the hilt.”
McGill’s Chief Executive Ralph Roberts, who is also President of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, said: “Lets discuss those 60% of bus passengers who have their fare paid by Scottish Government. Bus operators have no choice but to carry them and the fare is set nationally which doesn’t deal with regional or operator-based variations.
“If you have a quality or low volume operation, you are penalised. If you try to reduce single fares to give fare payers a better deal, your concessionary revenue also gets cut. The bus operator invariably takes the blame for all of this, but the system is a product of decades of policy decisions. Transport, planning, health, education, environmental and roads budgets are all the policy areas that affect bus use.
“An article that was recently carried in an SNP-supporting newspaper called for the end of privately owned buses. With profit being such a dirty word for most Green and SNP politicians these days, I do wonder why they condone such huge profit margins to be syphoned out of their publicly owned rail company?
“This is a cycle and it happened before. Buses and trains were not always publicly owned – they mostly started life in private hands and then were bought out. In the late 80’s and early 90’s they were mostly all sold again to allow private investment and innovation.
“The calls for public control again now are a mix of ill-informed emotion and political dogma. Somewhere in all of that you have those that just want more of them and cheaper – not an unfair request. If councils and government want the buses back, they should simply buy them back again rather than try to cook up schemes where they steal back businesses under the benign and cuddly name of ‘franchising’. These are businesses that have been invested in and built in good faith. This is the equivalent of a failed state sanctioned theft programme.
James Easdale concluded: “I put this down to the lack of joined up thinking in Scottish transport matters and to the absence of business experience in Holyrood. We really can’t go on with this amateurish approach to vital services for our citizens.”