Scotland’s use of public transport falls by up to half

As the nation seeks to limit car use to decarbonize and introduces low emission zones in some Scottish cities, which will be enforced from this year, bus ridership has been found to have fallen by 40.3% from 392 million in 2016/17 ist Covid reached 234 million in 2021/22.

And there are further concerns that the Scottish Government’s flagship bus partnership fund, first launched in 2019 and aiming to provide priority bus action to tackle climate change, has stalled. By August last year it had pledged just £25.8m of its £500m budget.

Four years ago, as part of his embryonic Scottish Green Deal to respond to the global climate crisis, the First Minister put the bus at the heart of the Government’s program and announced what the Scottish Government described as a “groundbreaking new investment”.

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Transport experts say operators and authorities have highlighted the reason for the under-utilisation of the bus fund is that the Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) process has become “overly onerous”.

The aim of the program was to improve priority infrastructure for buses to manage the negative impact of congestion on bus services and increase utilization. It also revealed that the number of ScotRail passengers has fallen by 50.5% compared to pre-pandemic levels five years ago, falling from 94.2m to 46.7m.

New data from Transport Scotland also shows ferry passenger numbers have fallen by 23.8% over the five years, from 10.1 million to 7.7 million.

HeraldScotland: CalMac Ferry

But since 2016/17 there has only been a 12.5% ​​fall in car traffic in Scotland.

It comes as experts have warned hundreds of bus routes are facing the ax and fares are set to be raised as a Scottish Government fund worth an estimated £35million a year closes at the end of the month.

The end of Covid recovery support meant the support budget for bus services was cut by 37.1% from £99.4m to £62.5m.

The bus and coach trade association, the Confederation of Passenger Transport Scotland, has told ministers there needs to be a “modal shift of cars” to achieve the net zero ambition.

The group, which says the bus accounts for 75% of all journeys on public transport, said more needs to be done to give priority to buses.

They said it was “crucial” to be able to access the fund, which will support action to prioritize buses when Covid support ends.

CPT Scotland says the main reasons people choose not to take the bus are due to slow bus speeds, which are a direct result of congestion on our roads.

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They said measures to prioritize buses reduce congestion and incentivize car shifting.

“This will not only have a positive impact on air quality and road safety, but will also make our buses faster, more reliable and cheaper by reducing operating costs,” it says.

There are concerns that the end of the Network Support Grant, coupled with rising inflationary pressures, including rising fuel, energy and labor costs, will exacerbate a decade of decline as many communities are effectively cut off from public transport by cuts in numbers of buses, service cuts and fare increases in Scotland.

Official figures show that the number of scheduled buses in Scotland has already fallen by almost 25% from 4800 ten years ago to 3700 in 2020/21.

McGill’s Buses, one of Scotland’s largest independent bus companies, has previously revealed it is now planning a 13% cut in services in Renfrewshire and Inverclyde and predicts they will not be alone and that 600 to 800 more buses will go through very soon Scotland have to drive .

CPT said the predominant problem with bus use has been the increase in car travel and the associated congestion.

According to the survey data, there was a 14% vacancy rate in Scotland for coach drivers and 7% for coach drivers, which they felt impacted the ability to run the network reliably.

They say they are also affected by average fuel cost increases of around 30% for most operators across Scotland, with some smaller operators reporting increases of over 60%. The cost of AdBlue, used as an after-treatment system to reduce emissions from diesel engines, has increased by 400%.

They also point out that electricity costs for operators have increased by 75-250% and are likely to continue to increase. Paul White, Director of CPT Scotland said: “The Scottish bus sector continues to face a number of operational challenges. As government support ends, we are focused on providing a sustainable bus network that meets passengers’ needs as best as possible, while working with our public sector partners to remove barriers to growth and promote bus use.

Animation by Transport Scotland explaining the Bus Partnership Fund

“Locally, we are asking authorities to work with the sector to deploy the government’s bus partnership fund and introduce bus priority measures that will free the bus from congestion, improve travel times and reduce costs. At national level, the Scottish Government should consider how to support the bus – to ensure its profile and budget reflect the key role the bus plays in policy areas such as social inclusion, accessibility, public health, decarbonisation and the economy.”


Colin Howden, director of sustainable transport charity Transform Scotland, said the transport sector has worked hard to regain patronage since the pandemic and there are signs that bus passenger numbers have fallen by 87% and rail passengers by 225% increased patronage over the past year.

He said: “These upward moves must continue to meet our carbon reduction targets and we welcome the investments planned by the Scottish Government to encourage people to switch to public transport and take up active travel. However, the end of Covid support grants for bus services later this month risks undermining that progress at a time when bus customer numbers remain well below pre-pandemic levels.

Over the past year, environmental zones (LEZs) to improve air quality have been rolled out across Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. They set an environmental limit for certain city streets, restricting access for the most polluting vehicles to improve air quality.

Vehicles that do not meet the emission standards set for an environmental zone are not allowed to drive within the zone. If a non-compliant vehicle enters the LEZ, the registered keeper of the vehicle must pay a penalty fee.

In Glasgow, the LEZ already applies to buses. For other vehicle types, enforcement will begin in June. It starts from June 2024 for residents living in the zone.

Enforcement starts in Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh on 30 May or 1 June.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Scotland has the most generous concession system in the UK. More than a third of the population, over 2.3 million people, including those under 22 and over 60, as well as people with disabilities and carers, can benefit from free bus travel.

“Network Support Grant Plus was always a temporary fund to provide additional funding during Covid. It was renewed in June and renewed again in October.

“All bus operators who have agreed to participate in the program have signed on the condition that it finally ends this March.


“The Transport Secretary set up the Buses Taskforce to discuss the industry’s issues with operators large and small and put the UK Government in charge of that work, noting the reserved responsibilities in relation to the impact of Brexit on the labor market and the indicates fuel costs.

“We continue to work with bus operators and local governments to find remedial action where we can by monitoring patronage and considering support in line with the

Scottish Government contingency budget review.” Transport Scotland also said initial Bus Partnership funding will be used to develop and deliver priority bus initiatives, which local authorities are driving in partnership with operators, “that will benefit passengers, businesses and communities.” . Scotland’s use of public transport falls by up to half

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