The news that Scotrail is axing one third of its services, at a time when fares have soared, is not surprising. The issues Scotrail staff have been facing for years have not gone away and there seems to have been an almost complete breakdown in communication between management and unions.
I have written about this before, but the new timetables and the over-inflated prices will not impact white collar workers who commute Monday – Friday 9-5. Instead, it will be shift workers – those in hospitality and retail, and of course the health and care sectors – who are hardest hit. These are already the sectors that were most adversely impacted during the pandemic. They are also the sectors where work is often during anti-social hours, who need the railway to get them safely and quickly to and from work.
Take, for example, the last train on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow trainline. It will now depart at 10.15pm, which may be inconvenient for those who prefer a later meal, or are heading to town for concerts or plays. For those who rely on a late night train to get home from work, however, it is a disaster. Chefs, waiters and kitchen porters can’t just leave work early every night, so will be left with the choice of the night bus, or for those who do have cars, paying extortionate parking fees on top of trying to find somewhere suitable to leave their car for a twelve-hour shift. And the second last train is at 8.15pm, so there is the real possibility that the last train will be dangerously overcrowded.
There is also an environmental impact. Rail travel is the greenest form of transport for commuters, yet it is fast becoming unaffordable for anyone on an average salary. All the price rises and cuts to the timetables will do is drive people back to the roads, which is surely the last thing the Scottish Government wants.
For seven long months in 2021, there were Sunday strikes by Scotrail staff and exactly the same groups of workers were impacted. At the time the Scottish Liberal Democrats queried why the First Minister and Scottish Government didn’t step in to help negotiations.
Now, of course, Scotrail is in public ownership, and it could reasonably have been assumed that the kind of communication breakdown that had such an adverse impact on railway users last year wouldn’t be repeated. It is therefore utterly shameful that the Scottish Government still seem to be blasé to the real misery that these changes will bring to thousands of people. I am starting to wonder whether they care about the impact these decisions will have on ordinary people. Or if they simply do not understand the implications?
I am calling for the Scottish Government to urgently step in and facilitate negotiations. Rail users in Scotland deserve to have a rail network that is dependable, affordable, and above all one that serves their needs in getting them where they need to be at a time that suits them.