Scottish ministers urged to review costs of public transport amid drive to cut car use

Ministers are being urged to review the costs of travelling by public transport as part of efforts to cut car journeys.

The Scottish Government has set the goal of reducing the numbers of miles travelled by car by 20 per cent by 2030.

But with a new report highlighting how fares for public transport have risen “well above inflation”, a cross-party group at Holyrood has said “the cost of public transport needs to be cut in real terms”.

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In her Programme for Government, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged fares on the publicly-owned ScotRail network would be frozen until at least March 2023.

Passengers are shown here at Edinburgh Waverley station. Ministers are being urged to review the costs of travelling by public transport as part of efforts to cut car journeys. Picture: PA
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But a new report by MSPs on Holyrood’s Cross Party Group on Sustainable Transport said that “increasingly expensive” fares for bus or train, coupled with the “hidden costs” of travelling by car could make public transport a “less attractive alternative”.

The report recommended action be taken to “ensure that alternatives to car travel are available and affordable”.

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The document added: “Considering the cost-of-living crisis and the cost increases of public transport over the past decades, the cost of public transport needs to be cut in real terms.

“The Scottish Government should review the affordability of bus and rail travel and ensure that Scots are able to afford using public transport.”

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MSPs on the group made the recommendation after the report noted “public transport costs, particularly bus fares, have risen well above inflation over the past years, while the cost of private car use has been rising below inflation and wages”.

The report said: “Ensuring that there are affordable and accessible public transport services that can compete with private car use in attractiveness will be a key element in delivering an equitable transport system.”

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Ministers have also been urged to provide clarity around the “expected impacts” of the policy, and the timescales for implementing it.

To achieve the goal of cutting mileage by 20 per cent, the cross party group is recommending ministers target “unnecessary car journeys”.

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The report also called for vans – and not only cars – to be included as part of the traffic reduction target.

Group convener Graham Simpson said: “Cutting car miles by a fifth within just over seven years is a tall order.

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“When it still costs a couple times more to travel by train than it would in petrol, then you have to ask how we are ever going to encourage people on to public transport.”

The Conservative MSP stressed the group’s report was not seeking to question the merits of the policy, but added it wanted to “drill down into how the target can be best and most fairly achieved”.

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Labour MSP and group deputy convener Sarah Boyack said: “My priorities would be a focus on ensuring that public transport is affordable and accessible, with a reversal of cuts to bus services, continued investment in active travel and political support for a shift to low carbon transport across all sectors.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We know that to reduce car use, public transport has to be affordable and accessible.

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“We have frozen rail fares until March 2023. ScotRail fares remain on average cheaper than those across the rest of Great Britain – this is because for a decade we have kept fare increases down by ensuring they are in line with no more than RPI as well as supporting various promotional fare offers with lower-still fares.”

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