Analysis: Services under threat in Scotland’s rural areas

BUS use in Scotland had been growing steadily until 2008, and there has been a decline since then in most parts of the country.

This mirrors a fall in bus passenger numbers in the rest of Britain, although the drop in numbers has been more marked north of the Border.The economic downturn has inevitably led to a fall in the number of optional journeys made, and other factors like severe winters will have played a part, which may explain the drop in the number of journeys by concession cardholders.

There are significant differences between different parts of Scotland, with substantial year-on-year decline in passenger numbers in all parts of Scotland except the south-east, where bus use grew by 9 per cent. This contrasts with a drop of nearly 15 per cent in the rest of Scotland, peaking at a fall of 27 per cent in passengers numbers in the Highlands, Islands and Shetland.

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There is a strong culture of bus use in Edinburgh and the Lothians, in spite of the effect of the tramworks on services, and it is disappointing to see passenger numbers fall in some of Scotland’s more rural areas, where some bus services could be threatened by cuts in local authority budgets and in the fuel duty rebate paid to bus operators.

With fuel prices rising, many operators are increasing fares, but the high cost of fuel for private motoring does not yet appear to be forcing car owners to make less use of their cars and use public transport instead.

The bus is still important to the Scottish economy, with over 1.2 million bus journeys made each weekday.

•  Gavin Booth is senior officer for Scotland for Bus Users UK.