Better Buses

Glasgow

Here is a special entry from a friend of Better Buses, recounting how she found Glasgow’s buses as a visitor from France:

 

From Kelvingrove Park to the Gorbals, then through the Necropolis, what better way to visit than by bus? Let’s find a bus stop to start with … but which one? The first difference:  Glasgow has several bus companies, never seen that before! In France, cities, as big as they are, are always run by a single company, under the strong control of the state, which manages the whole transport network: buses, subway, tramway (and train in Paris).

After trying unsuccessfully to find a proper map of Glasgow centre on First’s website, I decide to go directly to a bus stop and find my way by myself. I’m lucky – a bus has just arrived at the closest bus stop to my home, asking the driver for information, he seems very helpful but… What language is he speaking to me??? Keep calm Coline, just the Glaswegian accent! Well, sat on the bus which seems to go to the city center -not too bad for a first lift- but why has the driver not given me my money back? Another passenger explains to me that it is called the “exact change policy” but I have to say that I still haven’t understood why it happens, except to increase the profit of First: would it be that difficult for drivers to give change?! Do you not find it weird that First is the only one to do that? -having travelled in Europe that’s the first time I’ve ever seen this. And by the way; do you find their fares fair? I paid £1.85 for a journey of three bus stops and I cannot help comparing this with the transport fares of Lyon, the French city that I come from. With a city size pretty similar to Glasgow and integrated ticketing across all forms of transport, a city-wide ticket costs €1.60 (£1.25)!

While looking out the bus window, looking at the nice and surprising city of Glasgow, I let my thoughts wander for a while and instead of thinking about the nice weather, as a law student I’m thinking about the Scottish bus policy (yes I know, that’s a bit sad!). As a bus user I can notice the strong difference between regulated and deregulated management of public transport, if deregulation is theoretically a good initiative to stimulate competition and economy (so British!), it seems that competition is not working anymore. Indeed, it seems to me that First is taking advantage of its leadership position to impose unfair practices to bus users who have no means to say no to it. As far as I can compare to what I know of the French system, I find myself in a good position as a service user because the measures taken by the city’s bus company are controlled by the city (fares, punctuality assessment, etc.) and on the other side the city council has to help the development of the public transport system; for example by creating specific bus lanes or subsidising more environmentally-friendly buses. So I wonder, who really benefits from the deregulated system, users or companies?

But buses suddenly lose any interest for me as I arrive in the city center, big red buildings, shops everywhere, and then a quiet walk through the Green and down by the banks of the River Clyde… what a nice tour of the city I have had! Far away, the amazing university at the top of the hill and St Mungo’s Cathedral… so many things that I’m looking forward to see – but I may rent a bike!

Still discovering new parts of the city -lively pubs, nice streets- and still meeting so many nice and helpful Glaswegians, I just regret that the heavy traffic and unhelpful public transport system do not help me enjoy Glasgow to its full potential. As one of the most dynamic and warmhearted cities in Europe, do not hesitate to look to your European neighbours for inspiration about public transport: integrated ticketing, public bike sharing, green buses, specific bus street… there are loads of interesting ideas that could be set up here: loads of alternatives that Glasgow definitely deserves!

Coline

The view from abroad. At a Glasgow bus stop.

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