When delegates of the COP26 conference arrive in Glasgow, which will include world leaders, climate scientists and climate activists, I think they’ll wonder what exactly the city is doing to tackle climate change given the state of the transport system and poor air quality. 

The international conference has provided the perfect opportunity to make real changes to this, but instead all that’s happened has been short-term gestures that will only help those coming to Glasgow for a couple of weeks rather than the residents who live here.

Delegates arriving in Glasgow from around the world will receive free public transport for the two week duration of COP. This will make it easier for them to get around and save them a bit of cash. 

This should be made available for everyone. Glasgwegians can expect nothing more than delays, jams, queues, and paying the full (costly) fares of Glasgow’s bus network, and for the system to be used as a ‘pilot’, the people who will be using the public transport system after this two week period need to be involved

COP would have been a perfect time to trial free public transport for all, as recommended by the Just Transition Commission. Free transport for delegates but not for residents is not only unjust, it’s a hallmark of the inequality in our transport system that needs to change.

Transport is Scotland’s biggest source of climate emissions. It is also the primary source of the air pollution which leads to 2500 premature deaths in Scotland every year. Around a third of people don’t have access to a car, and this rises to around half in our biggest cities, but yet so much of our planning and public spending is based on everyone having a car. 

We need to move as many journeys as possible to public transport, walking and cycling, while modernising the transport fleet. Bringing buses into public ownership and making them free at the point of use – like we do with health, education and other vital services – would be a huge step forward. If we run our buses in the public interest, we can create a comprehensive network that takes cars off the road, reduces emissions and improves air quality.

In October, there were promising announcements on cycle lanes in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We need every council to bring this level of ambition, to make sure that shorter journeys can be walked or cycled in comfort and safety.

Our transport system is still miles away from where we need it to be. The Scottish Government needs to use the upcoming budget to give councils the cash they need to start their own bus companies. For passengers and the planet, not profit.

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Gavin Thomson

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