How Scotland can revitalise bus use and improve air quality

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 23rd March 2018 by Claire Haigh.

At a recent Transport Knowledge Hub event in Scotland, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf MSP proclaimed that sustainable transport was at the very heart of the Scottish Government’s agenda. He said buses are to play a crucial role if Scotland is going to achieve its sustainable transport ambitions and in particular improve air quality. He sees buses as a key part of the solution.

In this assertion, the Transport Minister hit the nail on the head. Good bus services are vital to the strength of the economy and the health and vibrancy of our cities. Yet, in recent years, bus patronage has declined drastically in Scotland. This has had a detrimental impact on the environment – leading to more people using the private car which has led to increased congestion, worsening pollution and higher C02 emissions.

Recent statistics released by Transport Scotland are alarming. Bus passenger numbers have fallen by 10% over the last five years, the only mode of transport to experience such a drop in usage since 2011-12. At the same, car traffic rose by 5% which has added to congestion problems across Scotland’s cities, particularly in Glasgow.

There is however, reason for optimism. The local authorities and industry partners who attended the Transport Knowledge Hub event in Scotland demonstrated their commitment and desire to revitalise the bus sector.

Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group spoke of the need for us all to show ambition because buses are fundamentally important to the economy. Referring to the 40% decline in bus use in Glasgow over the past decade he said that it is vital that we show people that there is an alternative to the private car.  It will not be possible to do this without tackling congestion, and some difficult decisions will need to be taken.

Congestion is a big deterrent to bus use in Scotland’s cities, in particular Glasgow which has seen the biggest fall in bus speeds of any city in the UK.

Cllr Susan Aitken, the Leader of Glasgow City Council is passionate about the importance of tackling pollution and congestion. She spoke about the recently formed Glasgow Connectivity Commission under the leadership of Professor David Begg, which is focused on cutting traffic volumes in Glasgow city centre and encouraging greater use of public transport.  As a bus user herself she knows the vital role that buses play.

There was general consensus that devolution has been good for transport in Scotland. Transport Scotland is a particularly effective delivery agency and rail has been a particularly successful story over the last 18 years.  Added to this there have been major improvements to the trunk road network culminating in the award-winning Queen’s Ferry Crossing, the M74 upgrade and the soon to be opened Aberdeen western peripheral road.

While interurban transport improvements have been notable more needs to be done to improve connectivity within the Scottish city regions to help in facilitating inclusive and sustainable growth. With this in mind, there was widespread support for the creation of the Glasgow Connectivity Commission. The Commission’s role is not to narrowly focus on how to move people and goods from A to B but how transport can connect with the five key outcomes: economic growth, clean air, social inclusion, health, and attractive town centres.

Image: Welcome to Scotland

About the Author

This post was written by Claire Haigh. CEO of Greener Transport Solutions & Executive Director of the Transport Knowledge Hub. Claire was previously CEO of Greener Journeys (2009-2020).

Claire Haigh