PICTURE the scene: spring 2007, the bus centre at Los Angeles International Airport.

A clueless Scottish tourist is boarding a bus, brandishing a fistful of dollars, quarters and dimes. “How much for a single?” she asks. “75 cents.” A pause. “Sorry, did you say 75 cents?”

The bus driver purses her lips, and three quarters are quickly proffered. “Do you need a transfer?” she asks. A confused pause. “A transfer,” she repeats with a sigh. “Do you need to take another bus?” “Oh, um … yes? Yes please.”

And just like that, I was on my way to my hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard – a journey taking just over an hour, involving two buses – for less than one dollar.

I was dumbfounded.

I checked this week, and unsurprisingly the fares have increased since then. These days the same journey appears to cost $1-$1.25, depending on which operator you use.

By contrast, let’s check how much it costs to travel by bus from Glasgow Airport into the city centre. An adult single is an extortionate £8.50 (£9 if bought on the bus), or £14 (£14.80) for an open return. There’s also the option including a FirstDay ticket that allows unlimited travel on First Glasgow buses for the day, at the bargain price of £13 (£13.80).

Oh no wait – that isn’t a bargain price at all, as it represents at most a 10p saving on buying an airport single plus a standard FirstDay ticket (£4.60 in advance, £4.70 on the bus), and at worst actually costs 10p more, and is £2.90 (£3.30) more expensive in total than buying an open airport return plus one standard FirstDay ticket. Confused? You will be!

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There are also “freedom tickets” that allow unlimited use of both the airport buses and First Glasgow buses, but these are only available as four-day and five-day passes. Why such limited and specific time periods? Who knows? First moves in mysterious (and expensive) ways. Freedom is only available to those who don’t outstay their welcome.

Just researching all these options and trying to calculate which makes the most sense is enough to leave aspiring visitors feeling conned before they’ve even touched down in Scotland, but you have to admire how the Glasgow Airport website frames the experience for those who need to travel onwards from Buchanan Bus Station.

“If your journey doesn’t stop there, you’ll be pleased to know that First Glasgow has a network of over 100 services,” it enthuses. “Your Greater Glasgow travel just got a whole lot more exciting!”

Ha! That’s one way of putting it. I’m not sure I would call travel planning an “exciting” activity, but I suppose downloading apps and poring over Zonecard map PDFs is the kind of thing that floats some people’s boats.

Tourists from the developed world surely find it quaint that in order to access unlimited* travel for the duration of their stay they must present a passport-sized photo of themselves at a station. (The asterisk refers to the fact that night bus services are excluded, but hey, we don’t need to encourage tourists to support bars and night clubs – that sector is doing just fine!).

Wouldn’t it be good if visitors and locals alike didn’t have to worry about checking fares and researching the most cost-effective routes, and could instead just focus on enjoying everything the city has to offer, hopping on and off public transport as required?

It’s a drum that campaigners with Get Glasgow Moving have been banging for five years now, and the noise got louder this month after delegates attending COP26 were issued with free travel passes that allowed them to use whatever forms of public transport suited them best, whenever they wanted. Not only that, but the Sunday operating hours of the city’s subway were extended beyond the usual hopeless 6pm.

Nicola Sturgeon was grilled on “smart” transport at this week’s FMQs by two Labour MSPs, who wanted to know when the residents of Scotland would benefit from fully integrated transport systems and capped daily fares. In response the First Minister was keen to talk about her government’s announcement of free bus travel for under-22s (certainly very welcome, given the terrible levels of minimum wage for the youngest workers), but only stated that the work on integration was “under way” with no suggestion of a likely timescale for completion.

What is taking so long? Shouldn’t this be a top priority for a government keen to lead the way on cutting emissions? Justifiably, the pandemic has made people more hesitant than ever to use public transport, even if they might aspire to ditching their cars for environmental reasons.

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But with season tickets no longer an economical option for those working from home a few days per week, the cost per journey is higher than ever at precisely the time when governments and transport companies should be working together to make green travel more affordable and attractive. Price caps and flexible season tickets are needed to ensure people don’t feel like they’re being stung, or that they need to consult an app and a calculator before setting off on their commute.

Visitors, too, should be made to feel welcome and encouraged to explore our cities, rather than having their pockets picked as soon as they get off a plane or train. We should be rolling out the green carpet and setting an example, not lagging behind the rest of the world.