Environmental campaigners have welcomed the news that Aberdeen City Council is moving forward with a proposal to buy out the city’s First Bus fleet. Local media reports that with First Aberdeen under big financial pressures due to Covid-19, the Council is exploring a takeover. Other options include turning the bus service into a worker’s cooperative, or a joint bid with Glasgow City Council and other local authorities.

All bus operators have seen a huge decline in passenger numbers since Covid restrictions began. The Scottish Government has stepped in to provide the bus industry with huge subsidies to keep companies afloat, with no conditions attached to protect jobs, safeguard routes or prevent fare hikes. A Scottish Government request that bus operators offer free travel to NHS staff during the pandemic was only introduced by a few operators. First was not among them.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air Pollution Campaigner Gavin Thomson said:

“It’s great to hear Aberdeen City Council’s bold and ambitious plan for taking over the First fleet. Our buses need to be run in the interests of passengers, not profit. A council-run bus service could genuinely serve everyone in the city, while investing profits back into improving the service rather than being paid out to corporate shareholders.

“Transport is the most polluting sector when it comes to climate change. To meet the climate targets set at local and national level, we need to change how we think about the way we move around. Public transport is an essential public service and should not be an opportunity for profit.

“An affordable, accessible, and reliable bus service means that people don’t need to drive private cars – it will improve air quality, reduce climate emissions, and make the city easier and safer to navigate for all road users.

“The scale of the financial support the Scottish Government is currently handing over to operators, with no conditions attached, coupled with the need to urgently change our transport system, should be pushing every council to consider this option. Hopefully, Aberdeen can lead the way in transforming the ownership of public transport”.”

Alison Stuart, Director of Aberdeen Climate Action, said:

“A publicly-owned bus service is essential for improving public transport in the city, making it easier not to drive, and so cleaning up the air we breathe. Many people in the city have been dissatisfied with the public transport options for a long time, but this is a real opportunity for change. I hope that this is not just talk, and we soon see real action from our Council on bringing buses back into public control.”

Notes to Editors

1. Recent news articles on the fate of First Bus in Aberdeen, and across the UK:

‘Council in fresh bid to buy First Aberdeen’

‘Coronavirus: Transport giant First warns of ‘uncertain’ future’

‘FirstGroup derailed by collapse in passenger numbers’

2. The Scottish Government is subsidising the bus industry on concessionary fare numbers for 2019, despite buses now carrying only a fraction of those passengers. In other words, the taxpayer subsidy per bus passenger has increased exponentially. https://www.transport.gov.scot/news/emergency-support-for-the-scottish-bus-industry/

3. For the region which includes Aberdeen, ‘North East, Tayside and Central’, bus passenger numbers have fallen 14% in the last 5 years.
This decline is only 10% for Scotland as a whole.
https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/47300/scottish-transport-statistics-2019.pdf (p.62)

4. Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 75 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups.

5. Aberdeen Climate Action (ACA) is a volunteer-run organisation based in the North East of Scotland. Activities are channelled through raising awareness, education, lobbying and support. ACA aims to:
• provoke action on climate change
• advise the public on reducing carbon emissions and
• promote more sustainable living.