An inquiry by the Scottish Parliament Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee launched in 2013 found that there is a lack of evidence on the social and economic benefits of community transport (CT) in Scotland. In order to address this, Transport Scotland commissioned this research study designed to identify the economic, social and health benefits generated by CT in Scotland.
- CT is a critically important service providing cross-cutting benefits across a range of policy areas, including transport, health, social services and leisure, amongst others. It also plays an important role in tackling different types of inequality, an important issue on the current Scottish Government policy agenda.
- Whilst CT offers a range of benefits across policy areas, the magnitude of the contribution to each is difficult to identify.
- CT generates a Scotland-wide social welfare benefit (consumer surplus) for users.
- The five case studies are estimated to generate £2.8 million per annum in Gross Value Added.
- CT offers significant cost savings to local authorities, the NHS and other public bodies.
- CT generates a large number of unremunerated productive hours and provides a pathway to employment.
- CT helps to tackle poor transport accessibility - 50% of survey respondents noted that their trip could not or would not be made without CT.
- CT provides a means for isolated individuals to interact - eg 68% of all respondents indicated that the CT service they used was very important 'just to get out'.
- 89% of respondents explained that CT was either "Fairly" or "Very Important" in supporting personal independence.
- CT offers a range of health benefits, including improved access to health services, fewer missed appointments and the continued ability to live at home.
Aims of the Research
The purpose of this research was to identify and, where possible, measure the economic and social benefits generated by community transport (CT) in Scotland.
Following a review of available literature on the benefits of CT, a primary research programme was carried out with five principal case studies from across Scotland, namely Annandale Transport Initiative; Badenoch & Strathspey Community Transport Company; Buchan Community Dial-a-Bus; Community Transport Glasgow; and the Order of Malta.
The research consisted of a questionnaire-based survey of CT users; focus groups / depth interviews with CT providers, staff and volunteers; telephone consultations with local authorities; and telephone interviews with a handful of other providers.
The aim of the primary research was to identify the extent to which CT in Scotland delivered the positive outcomes identified in the literature review
Economic Benefits of CT
Across all five case studies, one third of respondents (n=61) indicated a willingness-to-pay in excess of the fare (which in many cases is free). Whilst the analysis was relatively simplistic, this nonetheless implies that, at a Scotland-wide level, CT generates a social welfare benefit (known as consumer surplus) for users.
The survey responses were skewed towards more elderly members of the population, which meant that few respondents were making use of CT for travel to work or education. However, amongst the small sample who were making such trips, there was almost unanimous agreement that CT services allowed them to consider a broader range of jobs / study opportunities.
The evidence suggests that CT providers support local businesses through providing access to retail and other facilities, purchasing locally and operating ancillary social enterprise.
CT providers direct employment and preparation for volunteers entering the workplace. This is of benefit both to the government who gain higher levels of employment and reduced social security costs and private bus firms who often recruit CT drivers. Analysis suggests that the 75 salaried staff across the five case studies generate £2.8 million gross GVA per annum.
Volunteers obtain a social interaction benefit from working with CT providers whilst, at the same time, providing a net economic benefit to society in terms of the additional (uncompensated) productivity / value added to the economy.
CT also offers a wide range of benefits to local authorities and other public bodies. Consultations with the case study local authorities found that CT services were less costly than their commercial equivalents, although quantifying this cost was deemed to be challenging given the differences in the scale and scope of operations. Nonetheless, Highland Council in particular noted that it would be unaffordable to fund commercial providers to cover operation of the services offered by the CT sector in the Council area.
CT was seen to be of particular benefit in the current financial climate. With local authorities consulting on efficiency savings, CT provides a lower cost and more flexible means of delivery for currently marginal transport services.
Despite the benefits offered by CT, case study providers did highlight a number of funding issues. These included a lack of funding centralisation; the lack of coordination between capital and revenue budgets; the dependence on transport departments and other charities for funding that are not wholly transport issues (eg access to healthcare); and time-limited funding packages, which make long-term investment planning difficult.
Social Benefits of CT
CT plays an important role in tackling accessibility poverty by providing demand responsive and other transport services when mainstream transport is unviable. Access to shopping is reported to be important by most respondents, followed by access to medical appointments and day trips. The importance of CT to 'just get out' is also very high, highlighting the social inclusion benefits of CT.
Across all case studies, at least 50% of respondents indicated that the trip could not be made or would be made much less often without CT.
CT services are seen to be of significant importance in tackling isolation and promoting social inclusion. CT provides a means for isolated individuals to interact - eg 68% of all respondents indicated that the CT service they used was very important 'just to get out'.
CT supports personal independence in a variety of almost equally important ways, ranging from allowing people to stay in their own home to reducing dependence on family friends and others for help with their journey. 89% of respondents explained that CT was either "Fairly" or "Very Important" in supporting personal independence.
CT services are seen as important in promoting wellbeing, quality of life and mental health. 75% of applicable respondents to our survey agreed that without the service they would find it difficult to access activities. Almost half of all respondents 'strongly agree' that their physical health is better because they use the CT service.
The user surveys also indicate that CT services make a significant contribution towards healthier lifestyles. The main benefit relates to enabling about half of all respondents to stay more active and get out and about more, whilst access to more healthy eating and drinking options was also seen as beneficial.
The research also strongly supported the view that CT is a key facilitator in leading to the earlier detection and treatment of emerging health issues. 60% of applicable respondents agreed that they now see the doctor quicker and/or more often because of the CT service they use. Similarly, 39% of applicable respondents agreed that the CT service makes it much easier for them to get their medication. Without the CT service, individuals sometimes put off going to the doctor, not wanting to be a burden on their families.
CT was also seen to be important in reducing missed medical appointments and domiciliary provision. 23% of respondents agreed that the CT service they use has reduced the number of medical appointments they have missed:
In addition, approximately 16% of all respondents strongly agreed that they have less need for home visits from the GP or nurse and another 7% slightly agreed with this.
Finally, CT was seen to support rural sustainability, by providing people in rural areas with access to key services.
CT offers a wide range of social, economic & health benefits, as evidenced by this research. The services support the Scottish economy in terms of employment, productivity and rural sustainability.
In addition, the cross-cutting nature of CT is perhaps unique amongst transport services. The evidence demonstrates that CT is far more than a point-to-point transport service - the CT services examined show the importance of, for example, social interaction on the bus and the role CT plays in encouraging often vulnerable people to attend medical and other appointments they would not otherwise make. By offering these benefits, CT is making a positive contribution to the Scottish Government's attempts to reduce inequality.
Whilst this study has demonstrated the significant benefits offered by CT, it is important to note that the scale of the contributions which CT makes to the positive outcomes outlined remains unclear.