Jenny Marra MSP - Bus Services speech in the Scottish Parliament

19 April 2012

Dundee community spirit action group, which is based in the Pentland area of the city, has been campaigning in the wake of cuts to local bus routes and service frequency.

The community was previously well served by two regular services into Dundee city centre, both of which have been withdrawn and replaced with a service that starts at 9.45 am—which is not much use for people going to work in the morning—and stops at 5.30 pm.

No service connects the community with the city centre in the evening or at all on Sunday and, on weekdays, the service runs only every two hours.

At a meeting with National Express, which runs the services, residents were told that they should walk either half a mile down to Blackness Road to catch the company’s most profitable bus service in the city or half a mile down to the Lochee Road to catch a bus into town.

Many elderly people who live in the community cannot manage a walk of such a length, especially with the hills that it involves, which means that going out at night is not an option for them and journeys to church on Sunday are, I am told, impossible.

The community spirit action group in Pentland is not asking for a bus every five minutes; it understands the financial imperative behind running services.

The group‟s spokesperson, Len Jamieson, said to me:

“We accept that we can’t have all the buses running full all of the time, but profitable routes should subsidise non-profitable routes.”  

The minister might want to heed such sound advice and sensible observations.  

The Pentland residents are not asking the earth; they simply want buses that connect them with the heart of the city and which run all day and all weekend to allow them to get their shopping, go to church, visit their friends and get to the doctor.  

That is not too much to ask.  

In Dundee, bus companies are now pulling school buses because they are not profitable.  

When did anyone ever expect school buses to be profitable?  

Recently, the school bus from the west end of Dundee to St John‟s high school was taken off because it no longer made a profit, which means that pupils have to take a much longer and more circuitous journey to school that is simply a waste of time.  

I know that, because I have made the journey with the pupils. Longer bus journeys—  

Mark McDonald: Will the member give way?

Jenny Marra: I do not have much time, Mr McDonald—I do not have to look up to know who is speaking.

Longer bus journeys and less access to buses can affect school rolls and damage communities as parents are forced to make other decisions about their children‟s schooling if they find it too difficult to get them to and from school.

I should also point out that this is happening within the school‟s catchment area.

When I asked the SNP convener of education in Dundee whether there could be a subsidy for this school bus, I was told no.

Because the SNP refuses to regulate the buses, teenagers cannot get to a school in their catchment area and elderly people cannot get to the shops, to the doctor or to church.

Our council tax is being used to add to the bus companies' profits.

Jamie Hepburn: Will the member give way?

Jenny Marra: Go on then.

Mark McDonald: What does he have that I don‟t?

Jamie Hepburn: I have a lot that you don‟t, Mr McDonald. Thank you for throwing me. The term “regulation” has been used a lot this morning in a rather euphemistic way. What does the member actually mean by it?

Jenny Marra: Len Jamieson from Dundee community spirit action group put it very well when he said that if we are going to let bus operators run public services, we have to strike a deal with them to ensure that they run less profitable services. I am sure that the member will let me talk about that in my last minute.

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The member is indeed in her last minute.

Jenny Marra: The SNP council in Dundee has given £300,000 to National Express, which makes £180 million in profits each year, but last year it cut 99 teachers from Dundee schools.

We might call that a subsidy but if we allow commercial companies to run our public services we should strike a deal with them to ensure that they run all the services that are required.

I say to Mr Hepburn that that is what I mean by regulation and it is what the SNP refuses to do because the bus tycoon Brian Souter will not like it.

I support the Labour motion.

 

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