Europeans can can get sniffy about public transport in America. Outside of New York, they have a point. But, despite the money we Scots throw at public transport, we should not be so smug. Santa Cruz county is a satellite of Silicon Valley, much as East Lothian is of Edinburgh. A commuter and recreation component of the greater metropolis, it is linked by one trunk road artery— in their case the tortuous 4-lane Hiway 17, which snakes over the intervening 1,000-foot mountains. These prevent any rail link with the main urban centre.
Yet their Santa Cruz Metro (SCM) bus system knocks ours into a cocked hat. Instead of our rag-tag of six different bus companies, each running a couple of services that link with beither train nor other buses, SCM runs an interlinked system across the county.
Granted, their population is larger—240,000 versus our 105,000. But it serves a comparable area, running thrice as many routes, most at 30 minute intervals. And its cheap: while we pay a fiver to cross our county, their flat fare of $2 (£1.50) or £3 (£4.50) day ticket covers theirs. There’s no free travel but seniors pay half fare; 75p breaks nobody’s bank. The whole system works to a unified timetable, abailable in two languages (1 in 3 residents are Hispanic).
All of this does come at a cost: SCM’s budget is $40 million (£30m), which dwarfs ELC’s £3/4m. But adding in £4.5 million concessionary travel cist, adjusting for population and SCM driver wages at twice East Lothian’s gives a budget of £10m to provide a comparable service here. Finance for SCM buses comes 20% from the fare box, with the rest from State fuel and local sales taxes. Both ridership and fare box revenues are better, here leaving a £3m shortfall to make up. If such bus services were rolled out across Scotland, the bill wuld be £60m. This is barely 1/3rd of current concessionary travel costs—or 10% of the income tax tweak to be levied on Scots next year.
Instaead of sitting around girning about bus re-regulation, it;s time for Wur Parly to realise how even the land of the automobile is luring people out of traffic jams by making bus alternatives cheap and frequent. East Lothian would be the perfect place to try this out and—at only£3m—a snip.