Deregulation of bus services in Scotland and the UK has led to a “dysfunctional” public transport system which is falling apart, a report by human rights experts at New York University says.
A team led by Philip Alston, a former UN special rapporteur, examined the British bus sector outside London since the Transport Act of 1985, which led to privatised bus companies.
Their 38-page report said passengers are experiencing poor reliability, disappearing routes, limited coverage and inadequate information.
The researchers received a response from Transport Scotland to a series of questions they asked for the study.
It said bus fares in Scotland had increased by 58% above inflation since 1995.
In the introduction to his report, Prof Alston said: “Over the past 35 years, this approach has provided a master class in how not to run an essential public service, and left residents with an expensive, unreliable, fragmented, and dysfunctional bus system that is slowly falling apart.
“Bus operators have prioritised profits and dividends – extracting money from the system and cutting essential routes.
“Meanwhile, cash-strapped local authorities have been left to plug the gaps at additional public expense.”
The researchers interviewed 72 bus users in England, Wales and Scotland, as well as speaking to 42 transport experts, former bus drivers and government officials.
The response from Transport Scotland said it recognises the key role bus services play in helping people realise their human rights.
It said free bus travel is being expanded to under-22s, similar to concession schemes for older and disabled people.
Asked if there is a minimum level of service residents are entitled to, Transport Scotland said: “There is no set minimum. It is for local transport authorities to determine what services are required by their communities and residents.
“Requirements will vary dependent on local circumstances, including local geography and the availability of alternative transport options.”
Responding to the report, Friends of the Earth Scotland said it makes the case for a publicly-owned bus network.
Its transport campaigner Gavin Thomson said: “This report paints a devastating picture of how much privatisation has destroyed the UK’s bus network, while creating huge profits for big bus companies.
“Across Scotland, we have unreliable and expensive bus services which our elected officials have no say over.
“Private bus operators cut any routes that aren’t making a profit which has left many communities – both rural and urban – with no viable public transport.
“It is a scandal that bus fares have risen by two-thirds above inflation since privatisation, while the cost of motoring has decreased.”