Passengers on CalMac’s west coast ferries will only need to travel 1 metre apart from Friday.
Buses, train and tram operators will be able to follow suit if other safety measures have been put in place, Nicola Sturgeon announced today.
Some bus firms and the Glasgow Subway will also make the switch tomorrow, with First Glasgow, the city’s main operator, following on Monday.
The minimum distance is currently 2m.
Operators will have to introduce measures which could include back-to-back or face-to-back seating, enhanced ventilation, perspex screens, and mounted sanitisers, wipes and bins.
However, some firms said it would take time to implement any necessary changes and ScotRail said this would not be until later this month.
The First Minister told MSPs: “I can confirm we will allow – in a limited number of sectors – an exception to be made to the requirement for 2m physical distancing.
"However, this will subject to strict conditions tailored to the circumstance of each sector.
“For public transport and the retail sector, this exception will be permissible from tomorrow.
"However, it is essential that the required mitigations are in place and that appropriate discussions have taken place with trade unions before it becomes operational in any particular setting.”
Face coverings have been mandatory on public transport since 22 June.
The 2m distancing requirement has caused particular problems for ferry operators such as CalMac as passengers have no other travel option on some routes, such as to Arran and Mull.
This has reduced space on ferries to as little as 17 per cent of normal.
The operator said reducing distancing to 1m would approximately double that figure.
CalMac said it also planned to increase forward bookings from two weeks to four weeks ahead.
Managing director Robbie Drummond said: “From tomorrow, CalMac customers will be able to book travel within a rolling four-week period.
“This will significantly help island businesses reliant on visitors.
“We will soon be able to open bookings up for the remainder of the season - up to 18 October.
"We will update customers when we have more information to share.
“We have also been advised, following our risk assessments and review of mitigations to ensure safety of crew and passengers, we can move to a social distancing of 1m on board rather than 2m.
“This will result in more capacity being released across our network.
"However, things won’t go back to ‘normal’.
"Although the number of passengers we can carry will increase, the capacity per vessel will still be limited.”
Paul White, director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK - Scotland, which represents bus firms, said: “Operators will now revise their risk assessments to increase capacity while mitigating the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
“This process begins from today but passengers may not see guidance or information updated immediately.”
A spokesperson for Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), which runs the Glasgow Subway, said: “The Subway will move to 1m physical distancing from tomorrow.
"New signage to reflect the new physical distance on public transport will be added over the weekend in our stations and on trains.
“SPT has worked closely with Transport Scotland to meet all the mitigations required and has completed a thorough risk assessment.
"Enhanced cleaning regimes have been in place from February.
"We have introduced hand sanitisers in stations and increased our public messages to remind passengers about their personal responsibility to maintain good hand hygiene, maintain physical distancing and wear a face covering when travelling.”
ScotRail, where 2m distancing has cut capacity to 20 per cent of normal, said it was assessing the impending change and how it would affect capacity.
The operator is also considering the implications for staff and the need to remove reference to 2m from trains and stations.
A spokesperson said: “We have set out our very clear five rules for travel and we thank customers for following that guidance and helping to keep everyone safe.
“As we move toward the further easing of restrictions, we urge our customers to take personal responsibility, consider alternative transport options, and make sure our services are available for those who have no other option.”
The five rules are for passengers to avoid morning and evening peak hours, cover their faces, be patient, not board a train if they don’t think it is safe to do so, and not travel if unwell.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website.
While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive.
We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.
Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app.
Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.
By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.