Here’s why Free Public Transport should be top of John Swinney’s agenda.

As John Swinney takes office as First Minister, the Scottish Socialist Party has reiterated its call for democratic public ownership of public transport in Scotland, and for free public transport for all.

The SSP was the first political party to call for universal free public transport in Scotland.

Instead of using public funding to subsidise private profit – and saddling the public with higher fares, unreliable services, busier roads, higher pollution, and job losses – free public transport, with public ownership, is an investment in cutting emissions, cleaner air and improved public health, quieter and safer roads, more accessible places and services, social inclusion, and green jobs.

If John Swinney’s Scottish government is serious about delivering on emissions, inclusion, public health, green jobs, and strengthening our economy, then public ownership and free public transport should be top of his agenda.

The SSP’s Richie Venton wrote in The National:

“Scottish Parliamentary strops and stitch-ups do nothing to tackle the ugly twins of poverty and pollution, or their equally unpleasant sibling, social isolation.

“The Scottish Socialist Party has for 25 years campaigned for free public transport for all, as part of a suite of socialist policies to confront these abominations – in a manner that not only tackles pollution and climate change but vastly improves the livelihoods, job security, health and wellbeing of the Scottish people.

“We reject the nonsense that we must choose between good jobs and clean air to breathe.

“Socialist change – with democratic public ownership at its core – is the only route to prioritising working-class people’s physical and financial health, instead of fuelling the profits of the big polluters, including fossil capitalists, motor manufacturers, and competing privatised transport companies.”

“Asthma, respiratory ailments, cancers, and coronary diseases run rampant, stunting and shortening lives – especially for the poorest. Air pollution is the recognised primary cause. Road transport accounts for 73% of Scotland’s air pollution; cars alone spew out 45% of these health-ruining poisons.

“Swathes of working-class people who can’t afford a car stand in bleak Scottish weather waiting for buses that don’t turn up, as services, staffing levels, and routes are slashed by profit-crazed, privatised bus companies. On profitable routes, competing bus companies race to bus stops to capture the fares, making town centres a fog of toxins for anyone daring to breathe!

“Exorbitant fares – on buses and the most expensive (mostly privatised) train services in Europe – force many on low incomes to stay at home, socially isolated, unable to afford trips to family or friends, or enjoy Scotland’s rich and varied landscape.

“There’s no excuse for such pollution, poverty, and social isolation in 21st-century Scotland.

“The insatiable hunger for profit of the capitalist few is what trashes the planet and stunts the lives of the many.”

“The SSP pioneered the demand for democratic public ownership of all forms of public transport, free at the point of use for all age groups, fuelled by clean green energy.”

“This transformative measure is infinitely more necessary today than when we first raised it, 25 years ago. Yet all the political parties in Holyrood have utterly failed to pursue this path, abandoning their climate targets, jacking up fares, subsiding privatised bus companies’ profits from public funds by £400 million last year alone.

“The sustained pressure of the SSP’s campaign for free public transport(alongside other campaigners’ efforts) has forced the welcome concession of free bus travel for under-22s and over-60s.

“But why limit it to those age cohorts? Why only on buses? Imagine the liberating impact of free travel for all on buses, trains, undergrounds, foot-passenger ferries, trams, or newly-built light railway systems in our conurbations.

“Workers currently relying on buses to get to work would save at least £28 a week – £1400 a year. People would gain vastly increased mobility; richer, more varied life experiences; cleaner air to breathe.

“Free public transport would drastically reduce car usage. Not by pious sermons, hostility towards car owners, or punitive measures like workplace parking fees of about £500 a year, as initiated by the Scottish Greens and agreed by the SNP in Holyrood.

“If the Government wants to encourage people out of cars that pollute the air and overheat the planet, they need to offer a radically better alternative. Free use of vastly expanded, improved, integrated public transport networks would attract use by millions who today invest in a car as the only viable means of getting to work or travelling for leisure.

“The added beauty is that it would generate thousands of skilled jobs and apprenticeships.

“Research by Transition Economics proves how expansion and electrification of railways; construction of metro railways; expansion of bus services; investment in decent walking and cycling infrastructure, and development of zero-emission freight and shipping could create 60,000 jobs in Scotland over 10 years – 34,000 in the first two years.

“And that’s before accounting for the increased demand which free travel for all passengers would generate!

“Instead of the current crusade for driver-only ScotRail trains and reduced bus crews, the construction, maintenance, and operation of publicly owned transport would give secure, unionised jobs to a younger generation denied hope and self-worth.

“Is it affordable? We cannot afford to leave the catastrophic climate, health, and poverty crises unchallenged.

“And yes, the sixth-richest economy on Earth could afford free public transport as one of several free universal basic services, including health and education, funded from the wealth of big business and the super-rich. Vast savings from the costs of road accidents, ill-health, and lost production from traffic jams could help fund a Scottish free transport service, as could the removal of subsidies to privatised bus companies’ profits.

“Why fatten the profits of privately owned bus companies with taxpayers’ money, when progressive taxation and democratic public ownership of all forms of transport could provide a solution to pollution and poverty?

“Very few areas of the world practised free public transport schemes when the SSP first pioneered this policy; now more than 100 cities and urban regions across several continents successfully operate it, as does Luxembourg nationally. Why not Scotland?

“The SSP will persist, campaigning in the streets and trade unions for this challenge to the poverty and pollution inherent to the system of profit-making. And it’s one of several socialist measures that could convince the working-class majority of the material and social benefit of Scottish self-government.”