Associate Feature: Facilitating bus growth is in Scotland’s best interests
As we turn our heads to 2023, it is clear Scotland faces huge economic and social challenges. The bus sector and our passengers are not immune. Given the essential role bus plays across Scottish society, it is vital government, bus operators and other stakeholders come together to ensure Scotland has a sustainable transport network for tomorrow.
Scotland’s bus network is a lifeline for communities and a critical part of our country’s infrastructure. Buses account for three quarters of all public transport trips. They provide vital transport links to work, education, healthcare and other public services, connecting people and facilitating our local economies, and can do so more quickly, cheaper, and with more agility than other modes such as rail and tram.
Bus services are particularly important for those most in need. Almost two-thirds of bus users earn under £25,000 a year and often have no other transport options. Buses deliver social inclusion and are central in helping Scots through the cost-of-living crisis.
The sector has a strong record of investment and innovation. Operators - in partnership with government - are accelerating investment in decarbonisation. Inverness and Perth will shortly become the UK’s first all-electric city bus networks, adding to the UK’s largest rapid EV charging hub located in Glasgow. Our transition to zero emission is happening at a faster rate than other transport modes and Scotland is leading the UK in this journey.
However, over the past year the sector has been significantly impacted by external factors: the extended pandemic, reduced passenger numbers, rising inflation, supply chain costs, and sector-wide skills shortages which are affecting the ability to deliver services in some areas.
The Government’s recent extension to the Network Support Grant Plus (NSG+) until the end of the financial year is welcome recognition of the fundamental importance of the bus network to Scotland. It will help offset reduced revenue and provide a degree of certainty, allowing time to focus on the steps necessary to transition towards a more sustainable future. Now national and local government, politicians, operators, passenger groups, businesses and other stakeholders must come together in a positive coalition to deliver our shared responsibility of protecting and enhancing the bus network and growing bus use.
Buses can make a huge contribution to policy objectives that benefit us all: underpinning economic recovery, delivering a fairer, more equitable country, and securing our ambitions for a net zero future. This is why we seek action on three key priorities:
- we need to work in partnership to promote the benefits of bus travel and encourage passengers back to bus. We need to address any negative perceptions about public transport that persist from the pandemic and replace them with a positive campaign to demonstrate the benefits of bus travel.
- we need to give people who choose bus greater priority on Scotland’s roads. Congestion is choking our cities, stifling economic growth, and damaging public health. The delivery of Bus Partnership Fund initiatives will not only make bus services faster and more reliable, they will help reduce operating costs, keep fares down, and deliver far wider benefits across our communities.
- we need the Scottish Government to continue the successful partnership funding approach to decarbonising the country’s bus fleet. Fewer cars and busier buses can drive Scotland towards its target of net zero by 2045.
We welcome the Transport Minister’s Bus Taskforce and are engaging with the aim of securing a sustainable, affordable, and accessible bus network for all. Our commitment to this work begins now with many operators agreeing a fares freeze until at least March 2023.
Scotland needs and deserves a comprehensive and high-quality bus network. We need your help to deliver this and are ready and willing to play our part.
CPT Scotland is the trade association for the bus and coach sectors. www.cpt-uk.org
This article is sponsored by CPT Scotland.