Glasgow accounts for 20 per cent of Scotland’s economy. The underperformance of the city’s economy relative to European peers is therefore an issue for both Scotland and the wider UK economy, making both economies £7 billion pounds smaller each year than they should be. It is for this reason that addressing this underperformance should be a priority for both local and Scottish government.
Transport is important for the functioning of a city economy because it links people to jobs. The more people it is able to connect, the more attractive a city becomes because of the greater choice it gives to both workers and businesses. Public transport is particularly important because transporting many people into areas with high concentrations of jobs, such as city centres, by private transport is impractical.
While Glasgow performs well in UK terms for how its public transport system links people to jobs, it doesn’t do particularly well in comparison to large European cities. This is because the network doesn’t reach as far as it could, and because there aren’t many people living around public transport stops. This suggests that improving public transport is one of a number of interventions that should be prioritised to boost Glasgow’s contribution to the Scottish economy.
There are two policies that can be introduced to improve Glasgow’s public transport and help Glasgow reach its economic potential:
- Invest in new transport infrastructure and densify around public transport stops to make the system more sustainable. Glasgow is doing some of the former with the Clyde Metro, but both approaches, while necessary, are long-term policies.
- Improve the performance of the existing network by increasing the frequency of bus services and integrating transport modes. These are both more immediate ways to improve the system.
The introduction of the Transport Act 2019, coupled with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) considering how it should be better resourced, and what powers it needs, present opportunities to improve the existing public transport system for Glasgow and its surrounding areas. This report models what the benefits could be through using the powers in the Transport Act to improve bus frequencies and integrate public transport modes, showing 300,000 people could be better connected to Glasgow city centre (the region’s single largest area of employment) through making these more immediate improvements.
The Act opens up three ways to do this – through the franchising of bus services, through Bus Service Improvement Partnerships, and through the creation of municipally-owned bus companies. This report recommends bus franchising as the most effective way to boost both the frequency of bus services and their integration with other forms of public transport.
To do this, it recommends improving the public transport system in three phases:
- In the first phase (within the next 5 years), the Scottish Government supports SPT with funding and powers to establish and lead a franchised bus system. It should also provide funding for capital investment in public transport infrastructure.
- In the second phase (between 5 and 10 years), local leaders should put in place a combination of revenue-raising tools (for example, congestion charging, workplace parking levies or council tax precepts) to reduce the system’s dependence on national government subsidy. A council tax precept or other broader tax intervention will require a change in the legal status of SPT.
- In the final phase (10 to 20 years), policymakers should look to bring commuter heavy rail lines into SPT’s control alongside the future Clyde Metro. This would have two benefits: it would create an even more integrated system; and it would raise extra revenue to cross subsidise the network through the rental of commercial property in their associated train stations.
Bus deregulation in the UK since the 1980s is widely seen as a failure. The Transport Act in Scotland opens up the opportunity to reverse it. Given the importance of Glasgow to the Scottish economy, this legislation should be used to improve the coverage and performance of the transport network and should be backed with the resources to implement it effectively, with the goal of strengthening Glasgow’s economic performance, better linking people to amenities in an area that has low car ownership, and reducing carbon and other transport-related emissions.