Antisocial Behaviour on Buses

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at on 14 December 2023.

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Photo of Sharon Dowey Sharon Dowey Conservative

I thank my colleague Graham Simpson for raising such an important issue for debate. There is no doubt that antisocial behaviour on buses has increased dramatically since the free bus travel scheme was introduced. That has been an issue locally in my region, where a community council contacted the Minister for Transport on behalf of the residents of Dundonald in South Ayrshire. Local people said:

“our village has seen a dramatic rise in youth disorder with several residents being attacked, fires being raised and many residents, some elderly and some disabled, being verbally abused and threatened by groups of youths.”

They added:

“Evidence from our area would suggest that there is a direct correlation in the rise of youth disorder and free bus travel.”

I am sure that MSPs across the chamber have similar examples from their areas of physical assaults, verbal abuse, threatening behaviour, broken windows and vandalism. In each case, there is strong evidence of a link to the free bus travel scheme.

We do not know the full extent of the problem because the Scottish National Party Government does not appear to collect the data. In responses to parliamentary questions, I have been told that it collects only general crime statistics and that an evaluation of the scheme will consider the impact of antisocial behaviour. However, the Confederation of Passenger Transport Scotland, which is the trade association for the bus and coach sectors, has confirmed that

“there is no currently official data set to capture incidents of antisocial behaviour on buses.”

The Scottish Government must gain a better understanding of the problems that relate to the scheme. The SNP does not seem to want the true extent of antisocial behaviour to be uncovered, but we know that it is happening.

The Government’s “Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2023” report said:

“The ability of young people to travel for free on buses had, in some cases, led to young people traveling to other areas of the city to take part in fights or meeting up on buses and engaging in anti-social behaviour.”

We know that the Government has not acted to stop such incidents. It seems to be saying that it is powerless to prevent such crimes. Despite all the evidence of antisocial behaviour, despite the increasing costs to bus operators, despite the buses that have been taken off the roads, despite passengers being driven away from services and despite drivers being attacked—despite all that—the SNP is still not taking the issue seriously enough. It has stalled and delayed instead of finding a way to withdraw access to the scheme from the minority of people who abuse it.

I thank my colleague Graham Simpson for raising awareness of the issue. It is up to the SNP Government to act on what it has heard today.