18 April 2022
This weekend Glasgow is set to play host to Bus Regulation: The Musical, a celebration of the history of the city’s buses.
The pro-regulation extravaganza is the brainchild of Ellie Harrison, a seasoned activist with a track record in conveying political messages through performance art.
The show looks to shed light on the fragmented history of Glasgow’s transport system and promote the re-regulation of the city’s buses. The booked-out 30-minute musical is split into 8 acts, with some only lasting a minute or two, and tells its story with a cast of 11 people, 10 of which are on roller skates.
Partly inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express, the show is set to be a family-friendly fun-loving performance that doesn’t shy away from its educational purpose.
Written and directed by Harrison, the production is a spiritual sequel to her musical of the same name based in Manchester and has been rescripted to follow the specifics of Glasgow’s history. The Manchester version raised significant press attention to the issue of bus regulation in the area and preceded Manchester becoming the first region outside of London in the UK to re-regulate its buses since the 1980s.
Touching on how important the issue is, Harrison said: “Buses are so important to so many people. Predominantly women, people on low incomes, more marginalised sectors of society rely on buses. They don’t get the coverage they need, or they don’t get the attention they need in terms of trying to make them work in the interests of passengers.”
While the piece is essentially Harrison’s critique of transport policy in the city, she hopes the performance’s final act – her vision of a future utopia where Glasgow’s buses are fully regulated and integrated – roots the musical in optimism.
She said: “It’s meant to be a celebration of public transport policy and it’s hopefully very uplifting at the end because we go into the future, and we look at what public transport would look like if the buses were all properly integrated and how it would all work perfectly and seamlessly connect with the subway and the trains and everything.
“So yeah, I want it to be very accessible, fun and playful. And I think that all of those things are really important for engaging people and communicating a message. And with this piece, like with those I’ve done in the past, it’s really about drawing attention to the history as well looking for patterns.”
With the council elections coming up in May, the timing of the premiere is well placed. Harrison is hoping her art will draw the interest of the public and subsequently the attention of the political powers that be.
She said: “We are doing it directly in front of the elections to create more discussion around this topic because it’s so important. The city council want to get to net-zero carbon by 2030. I do not think they realise the scale of the challenge. So given that transport is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions, that means not only improving the system we’ve got at the moment to benefit people who already use it, you’ve got to make it so good, so reliable, so affordable, that you’re enticing everybody who doesn’t currently use it to start using it. That is an epic challenge.
“If you want to try and shift nearly all journeys made around the region onto public transport in 10 years, it has to be radically transformed. It has to be a completely new offer to them. It has to be buses going every 10 minutes, all day and night so that it doesn’t matter what time it is, you can get around in a sustainable way.
“I hope that the new administration, whoever it is, really hits the ground running with this and sees that the only way we’re going to deliver a fully integrated system is by reregulating the buses. I mean, it’s so obvious. It’s so obvious. And that’s why it’s painful to see how little progress the Scottish Government has made since devolution.”
The fully booked show is free to the public and hosted by the Centre for Contemporary Arts, seating 64 people for each performance. However, with demand far exceeding supply, Harrison is hoping she can produce follow-up shows in the Summer to the two on Sunday.