Aspirations for public transport in Scotland

Participants were supported to imagine a vision for a World Class Public Transport System in Scotland, by discussing and agreeing on principles, priorities and aspirations for a public transport system in 5 years’ time. These were developed in urban and rural groups separately. Although there were clear similarities participants decided to keep and report on these aspirations distinctly.

Aspirations relating to Cost

Urban group aspirations

  • Public transport should be affordable for all passengers. To achieve this, costs should be set as a ratio of the minimum wage for under 23s.
  • In the longer term, we work towards public transport being free for all at the point of use.

Rural Aspirations

  • More people who are currently disenfranchised from services will have access to free bus services, more services should be available in rural areas at reduced costs. It is not fair that peak fares are a punishment for people in work.
  • Scotland should work towards a gradual free public transport for everyone.

Cost was a key consideration for both urban and rural groups. Public transport costs influenced and restricted decisions to go to places, employment decisions and how they spend their time. Participants all recalled times where the cost acted as a barrier to their plans:

it’s just over what I make in half an hour- I can’t really justify it and I don’t really go into city centre as much because the tickets are so expensive.”

Both groups felt that it was necessary for public transport to begin to move towards being universally free at the point of use to make it truly fair. Participants were however sceptical about whether this would happen and if it did, believe it would be a longer-term goal. In the interim, participants supported ideas of reducing costs for public transport through concessionary travel. There was a clear understanding that affordability of travel should be measured on the basis of people earning the least.

A majority of participants felt that peak fares were a punishment for people who work; participants thought peak fares were unjust and supported their removal.

Most focus was given to bus costs. Including work taking place in Manchester where prices for bus tickets have been capped. It was felt that this would be a positive first step towards universal free bus travel and would benefit people living on low incomes.

Aspirations relating to Concessionary Travel Schemes

Rural Aspirations

  • Concessionary travel schemes should be automated to remove barriers in application process and should be integrated for all forms of transport.
  • Extend concessionary travel schemes to homeless, in care or with No Recourse to Public Funds (refused asylum seekers, foreign spouses of British nationals etc).

Urban Aspirations

  • Concessionary schemes should be extended to all those receiving benefits, avoiding barriers created by bureaucracy. People in the asylum process should be included.

Participants who were parents commented on the success of the under 22’s National Entitlement Card (NEC) concessionary bus travel scheme when they were able to access it.

Under 22 has made such a difference and eased and helped us as a family. Cost was the thing that prevented me going to city centre.”

However, praise for the scheme was included criticisms of the administration process. The application process was overly complex and hard to navigate, participants noted that some lacked the documentation needed to apply these often-required money. This meant that some gave up and didn’t benefit.

I also had huge problems for my son and at one stage I nearly gave up. And for people who don't know how to use computers or aren’t educated enough [it’s too hard to access] I heard lots of others make the same complaints.”

It was therefore felt that automation of concessionary schemes was necessary and that eligible people (under 22’s, asylum seekers, people in receipt of social security etc.) should automatically receive a smart card to access free public transport in a similar way to those over 60 receive.

Rural participants agreed that concessionary schemes should be extended to cover other modes of transport such as ferries and trains.

Participants shared examples of their children’s NEC cards being rejected at certain times of night which had dangerous implications for safety. Restrictions on the existing schemes should be removed.

Despite problems in application, there was praise for concessionary schemes overall and a strong belief that some population groups require support to access public transport to aid them to access essential services and to take part in society.

Aspirations relating to Availability and Reliability

Rural Aspirations

  • Information about routes, timing, accessibility for elderly and disabled people will be easily available. 
  • Quality of public transport stock will be improved as will the ancillary services (waiting rooms, toilets, shelter at stations or bus stops) etc.

Urban Aspirations

  • Public transport should be reliable, predictable, and dependable.
  • Some ways to achieve this include ensuring signs at bus stops and apps are accurate; designing buses to have space for both wheelchairs and buggies and providers should be held financially accountable for unreliable services. 

Both urban and rural groups noted that public transport can be unreliable. Often buses and trains were late or were cancelled at the last minute without adequate information or replacement services.

For people living in rural areas, public transport was felt to be particularly unreliable and often unavailable. This was impacted both by restricted number of routes, buses going long distances to make up for cuts to routes and poor weather resulting in last minute cancellations. This meant people in rural Scotland losing trust public transport getting them to where they need to be safely and on time. And often being forced to use private, more expensive forms of transport. This puts people off using public transport:

It's hard to encourage people to take the bus if you cannot guarantee it will be there.”

Urban participants were less likely to have access to a car and therefore when public transport did not show up, they were forced to walk. This could be late at night or in poor weather conditions raising important safety and health concerns, particularly for women, girls, and disabled people.

As a parent reliability is one of your biggest concerns . You want to teach your children independence, if the buses aren’t reliable that is a fear. When it’s after dark, you always have that fear that something is going to happen”

The lack of reliability of services meant that some participants commented that they had opted out of social events or had been unable to access essential services:

Great music venues in Galashiels but the last bus back is at half-past nine. If I can't get a lift, I can't go”
I was late for a hospital appointment last week because the bus didn't show up.”

The issues of availability and reliability also considered the lack of information on last minute changes or cancellations, out of date information on bus stops, and inefficient mobile phone apps that do not reflect the real-time current status of buses and trains. The poor quality of transport was also linked to this with participants in both urban and rural area noting instances where buses may catch fire and so would be cancelled but no replacement service would be put in place.

Aspirations for equality and safety

Rural Aspirations

  • Public transport should be safe and accessible for people with disabilities, those with caring responsibilities and passengers with additional support needs.

Urban Aspirations

  • Public transport should be safe for everyone regardless of gender, race and religion. This review should consider gender, disability, and race throughout the whole process. This might result in providers and frontline staff taking account of gender, disability, and race in training./li>

Participants raised important equalities considerations regarding access to and use of public transport for different groups. Disabled people and women shared often negative experiences of public transport.

Disabled participants who use wheelchairs, carers, and parents who had young children who need prams noted that public transport is particularly inaccessible and unreliable for them due to the lack of space for wheelchairs and prams on most buses. These experiences meant that had been forced to restrict their lifestyle as they were often unable to get on the bus due to lack of space. This was also seen in other infrastructure that supports access to public transport such as the condition of pavements and roads:

I used a bus before I was disabled, but now accessibility of public transport is a big barrier and pavements are not always accessible to get to public transport.”

Disabled participants also noted the lack of information surrounding accessibility of transport whether this be via apps, websites or indeed information at bus stations and stops. Participants noted that not being able to guarantee safe transport home deters people from going out, and raises gendered safety concerns:

If I try and book things it doesn't tell you if they the station is accessible, seats I'll be able to use. I struggle to find all of that. So, I prefer not to do that. And as a disabled woman, I don't want to be stuck anywhere on my own. It doesn't sound fun.”

Due to the negative impact of not being able to access public transport on mental wellbeing, participants felt like this was an area that needs to be considered in the review:

“Young women with buggies and toddlers are very isolated because of their inability to access public transport.”

Issues around safety and race were also raised as part of these discussions:

I would never go on the bus in the dark… Once the terrorist attacks had happened a good friend of mine had their hijab pulled off in the daytime, not even in the dark.”

Participants felt it was important for all staff working in public transport to receive training on equalities issues. Training on these issues would lead to better designed services that meet the needs of these groups and support greater empathy and understanding from drivers towards equality groups. Participants also highlighted the need for the layout of buses to be redesigned to better accommodate people using wheelchairs and prams to prevent any dispute between the two.

Public ownership

  • A majority, but not everyone, agreed that to reduce car use and encourage public transport use we should have a publicly owned public transport system to reduce the inefficiency of the profit motive.

In the urban group some participants agreed that public transport run by private companies for the aim of profit cannot be efficient in meeting the needs of people or in meeting the climate target aims of taking cars off the road. A profit motive contributed to unprofitable routes to be cancelled, which fails local communities.

Pathfinder Projects: Peak Fares

Participants were asked for their views on “Pathfinder Projects” proposed by the Scottish Government to tackle costs and availability of public transport. They were asked about the impact that the removal of peak rail fares would have on their transport habits.

Specifically on the removal of peak fares, there was consensus amongst participants in both urban and rural localities to remove peak fares, with many believing it to be unfair for working people and to directly link to in-work poverty:

I don’t think peak / off peak is fair. People who are more likely to rely on public transport is more likely to be on a low income. Why are people paying premium for not being able to afford to maintain a car”

Participants agreed that those living on a low income were unlikely to use trains at all as they were too expensive, even with off-peak fares. Conversely, rural participants noted that often rail is their only option and so the removal of peak fares would be helpful in this regard. Participants in both groups highlighted that to best support people living on a low income, pathfinder projects would be better to focus on the cost, availability, and reliability of buses as this is the primary mode of transport for low-income communities.