Transport Transition Plan

Scotland is preparing the transport system as we transition through and out of the COVID-19 crisis.


As we ease from the current restrictions in how we work, socialise and access services, work is ongoing to provide a safe transport system to meet the needs of the country. The focus is to ensure Scotland can keep on moving, whilst continuing to supress the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On 21 May, the First Minister published a Route Map, setting out the steps which will take us there in a careful and gradual manner.

This Government is taking an evidence-based and transparent approach in this transition, which aligns with the Framework for Decision Making document. These pages set out the plan for transport within Phase 1 - 4, as services recover to full service, but whilst physical distancing may still be in place. The phases in the Route Map set out how and why people are able to move around and explain that while the level of service of public transport will be on an increasing trajectory, it will not be at full service levels throughout. 

In the transition, Transport Scotland will frame decisions with the unifying principle:

To operate a safe transport service, mitigating risks where possible for those using our transport network and for our transport operators.

Transport Transition Plan

The Plan, over the immediate, medium and longer term, will seek to:

  • ease restrictions on everyday life and movement
  • support economic recovery within the transport sector and broader economy, and
  • develop the future of transport in Scotland

The Transport Transition Plan will continue to develop as we tackle this unique challenge. The following sections aim to provide an insight into the scale and response to the challenges and how we will implement our transport decisions.

Our plan will:

  • inform passengers about when and how to safely access public transport
  • support management of travel demand, reinforcing broader messages on physical distancing and discouraging unnecessary travel
  • sustain behavioural changes, encouraging active travel options and staggering journeys to avoid peak times, and
  • inform passengers and road users of busy areas and times to encourage alternative choices

Moving to Phase 3

On 9 July, the First Minister announced that Scotland will begin moving to Phase 3 of the Route map for coming out of lockdown on the 10 July.

In terms of the ‘Getting Around’ element of the Route Map, to help people understand how to travel, when and safely, we have prepared Guidance documents:

What changed during lockdown?

During lockdown, the demand for public transport fell by 85% to 95% against the “normal” levels and operators reduced services across all modes, For example, rail services were running at approximately 40% and bus around 30%.

The reduction in demand for transport since lockdown measures were introduced also fell. This was due to people travelling for essential journeys only. During lockdown individuals were typically making 0.9 trips per person, per day compared to 2.7 trips per person, per day prior to lockdown. This is increasing as we move through the Phases of the Route map.

Walking and cycling trips increased as people stayed in their local areas for services and exercise. The rise in the use of walking, wheeling and cycling has been recognised by Transport Scotland and continues to be encouraged throughout all of the phases.

The demand for Public Transport during lockdown was approximately 5% to 15% of “normal” use with journeys being made over shorter distances, typically to carry out essential journeys by key workers. Since Phase 1 was introduced Public Transport usage has slowly increased on a week to week basis.

Estimated Trips per person per day from 15 March to mid June

The reduced capacity with physical distancing accommodated the low levels of demand.

The challenge

As we move to Phase 3, public transport continues to scale up to full services. An exception has been made for a limited number of sectors, including public transport, to move to 1 metre physical distancing provided that appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place. It is estimated that even with the move to 1 metre physical distancing the capacity on public transport could be in the region of 40% although this figure varies across modes and depends on the configuration of vehicles and vessels.

We acknowledge from the opinion polling that public confidence in public transport has reduced significantly. As a response to this we will all need to carefully manage the increased demand on public transport to prioritise the safety of its users and prevent overcrowding. We want to promote the use of sustainable transport choices where possible and not become a society with greater car dependence than before.

Key Issues:

  • Ensuring communication is clear, so transport users understand the circumstance in which they should be travelling. Advice needs to be clear on how, where and when they can travel.
  • There will be geographic challenges and with that, there will be no ‘one size fits all’ to the approach.
  • Public transport has an essential function in our society. We need to consider the impact on those who are most vulnerable and those who are most dependent on public transport and for accessing essential services.
  • There may be a tendency to use private cars when available due to the ability to physical distance. We need to ensure the adverse environmental and physical impact are limited by promoting cycling, walking and wheeling where possible.

We must consider the type of society and transport system we wish to have. The National Transport Strategy is vital to ensure that Scotland remains to protect our climate and improve lives. While it did not consider this challenge in its remit, the National Transport Strategy will provide the guiding principles for the planning for Scotland’s Route map through, out of the crisis and in to the future.