With the news that First Bus will be scrapping their staple night bus service for Glasgow and the surrounding area at the end of this month, I’d like to take you on a personal journey this week, a trip down memory lane, my experience of public transport in the city and beyond. Please, take a seat, buckle up, and join me for the ride.
I’m in high school, living in rural Lanarkshire with my parents. My school is now in the next town over, and three buses are used to collect us all: two rickety, rusting double deckers for the S1-4’s, one coach, slightly nicer but equally rickety, for the seniors.
I experience severe bullying and harassment, endure several breakdowns in adverse weather and even a crash. When we collectively complain at the tardiness and lack of care displayed by the bus company, a senior member of staff tells us the company was chosen because they offered the cheapest contract. I grow to hate getting the bus, and start to drive myself to school the week after I pass my test.
It’s my first day at university in Glasgow, and I’m still living at home with my parents. I would have opted to commute by train given my negative experience so far, but the nearest station is also in the next town over, requiring me to drive there or get another bus. What if I want to have a pint with lunch or after a lecture, as is so popular among students? This simply won’t be possible if I’m ending my commute with a short drive.
I get the only bus service direct to Glasgow that runs through the village, from Lanark to Glasgow via several busy towns in Lanarkshire. There are three during the morning rush hour, one every two hours during the day, and three during the night time rush hour. It’s the same bus my mum has been taking to work for over 25 years now, and it’s always packed. She tells me to buy a 10-journey ticket, it will last me for the week and works out cheaper in the long run. It costs me well over £20. I sit for almost two hours each way sometimes as we drive straight through the M74, M73, and M8 improvement works.
The last bus out of Glasgow departs at 6pm each night. No society activities or socialising after classes for me. I learn about these elusive ‘night buses’ from one of my new friends. I’d only ever heard of such luxuries only ever existing for those posh Londoners, and suddenly realised just how constricted my world view had been, and still was, by the manufactured isolation of my upbringing.
So sick of the bus, or the hassle and extra time to get the train over the next two years, I opt to rent a room in Glasgow for the year. I still have to travel home every Friday night, by bus, to get to my weekend job. With no Sunday service allowing me to make my own way back for my classes early on Monday morning, my dad drives me to the train station, or back to the city directly, every Sunday night for a whole year.
I’m able to socialise more with my university friends, and offer to let my friends from home stay the night whenever they want to meet for drinks in town, since, with no other transport options, a taxi would cost at least £50-70, as we once found out the hard way.
With my parents moving to a new town, with better transport links, I decide to move back home to save some money. We’re now a five minute walk to the nearest train station with a direct route to Glasgow. With no direct bus service from our new home, I opt for convenience, deciding that paying the little extra for a weekly train ticket is the best of my vastly improved, but still bad, options.
The train allows me to stay out a little later, and participate in society activities for my final two years of university. I still, however, can’t stay out past 11pm unless I want to fork out another £50 minimum for a taxi. But in comparison to my previous experiences, this still feels like a dream.
I discover from a family friend that still lives in my home town that the direct bus route we used to take to Glasgow has been permanently diverted and will no longer run through the village due to ‘decreasing demand’. This means anyone looking to get a direct bus to Glasgow, must now walk a three mile round trip to the next nearest stop. Including those who continue to work and study in the city.
I move out, and into an area served by the infamous night buses. Having only been recently reinstated following the pandemic, it’s used enthusiastically several times by myself and my friends, our experiences of it being hilarious at best, or civilised at worst. I’m left in awe at being picked up in the centre of Glasgow and dropped off practically at my front door for less than a fiver. While at times its reputation certainly precedes itself, it’s something I am more than happy to put up with for the sake of getting home both safely and affordably.
Just as I’m getting used to having such a service at my fingertips, it’s yanked away from me by private interests, putting the safety of night time workers, women, and minorities at risk at night.
I certainly don’t have the worst tale to tell in the country, but this should never have been the case. Privatising our transport network has done irreversible damage to infrastructure and public trust in services. Their unreliability, and at times unaffordability, has actively discouraged people’s participation in their local and wider communities. How many times have you thought to yourself, ‘This event looks fun, but I don’t have a way of getting home, so I won’t bother’? I’ve certainly thought it plenty of times, turning down more activities than I attended in my early years, my formative years. How many opportunities did I really miss out on, to grow as an individual, because of the state of the buses?! It doesn’t bear thinking about.
The state of our transport services, in the most populous city in the country and its surroundings, is beyond a joke. I am neither the first nor last person who has struggled, who has had to adapt their lives around the availability of safe and reliable transport, and I am fairly lucky in that I do not require assistance when I do decide to take public transport, making the experience even more difficult, possibly even traumatising.
Never has a private interest’s chokehold on our economy, our personal safety, and our community ties been so brazen. At a time when the brand new LEZ is trying to actively encourage the use of public transport, when women have never felt more unsafe at night, when our local economies still struggle under the weight of the Covid fallout, concerns are being raised by campaigners, activists, and locals alike.
We can only hope that the planned meetings between Transport Scotland and Glasgow City Council over the scrapping will provide some solution to those who rely on these services, one which will actually serve the public, and not private profit. Or that the Scottish Government will heed the calls to bring the service into public ownership, following further outcry as the story continues to develop.