Implement an integrated, accessible and affordable public transport system and improved local infrastructure throughout Scotland that reduces the need for private cars and supports active travel.

In order to meet our ambitious climate change targets, it is crucial that we reduce private car use in Scotland. Transport is Scotland’s largest carbon emitting sector, accounting for 29% of carbon emissions in 2019; of these, cars accounted for almost 40% of transport emissions. We will continue to improve and promote active travel and sustainable public transport options as an alternative to car use.

The Scottish Government is committed to taking action to implement an integrated, accessible and affordable public transport system. We are actively considering the cost of using public transport through our Fair Fares Review and from the end of January 2022, free bus travel will be available for 40% of the Scottish population. From April 2022, we will take over direct management of the ScotRail franchise and between 2019-2024 we will provide £4.8 billion to Network Rail to continue to decarbonise and increase the resilience of our rail network. We are making progress on smart ticketing, our vision is a Scottish public transport network where all journeys can be made using smart ticketing or payment.

Photo of Michael Matheson MSP

Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Michael Matheson MSP

“The Assembly’s recommendations were clear on supporting zero emission technologies whilst also prioritising walking, cycling and integrated public transport to support the shift to sustainable transport and reduce emissions from the most polluting modes. Our vision is to deliver a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system and the recommendations have helped shape how we will achieve this. We will shortly publish a route map to support our world leading commitment to reduce car km in Scotland by 20% by 2030.”

Recommendation 27: Public Transport Cheaper or Free

Make public transport cheaper, or free, by reviewing tender processes to focus government subsidies into nationalised public/private partnerships or not for profit public transport providers.

Children’s Parliament: Make public transport more environmentally friendly. This would involve making it easier and cheaper for children and adults and making buses and trains electric or hydrogen powered.


Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government partially supports this recommendation. We support making public transport more affordable and recognise the importance of not for profit and publically owned operators as well as commercial transport providers, local authorities and regional transport partnerships in achieving that. We are taking forward our Fair Fares Review to ensure a sustainable and integrated approach to public transport fares. This will look at the range of discounts and concessionary schemes which are available on all modes including bus, rail and ferry and will look at both cost and availability of services.


The impact of COVID-19 on travel demand and resultant demand for public transport has had a significant impact on public transport fare box revenue. To date, over £1 billion of support has been provided to support public transport operators during the pandemic to ensure that services remained in place for those who depend on them.

The COVID-19 recovery, supported by a safe and confident return to public transport, is crucial to ensure there is a viable and sustainable public transport system for the future. The fare box revenue of our public transport operators, the on-going impact of recovery from the pandemic and the potential budgetary consequences of pressure on fare box revenue highlights the fragility of our public transport system and the need to do everything to protect it.

Bus is the most used public transport mode and is expected to remain so, notwithstanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic the Scottish Government has substantially increased its support for services to sustain the network, despite reduced income from passengers and rising costs. We will keep our support under review as restrictions ease and demand returns.

We are reducing the cost of bus travel for young people by establishing a new free bus travel scheme for people aged under 22 and resident in Scotland. This new scheme will operate from 31 January 2022 and will complement the existing Older & Disabled Persons Free Bus scheme. Between them, the two schemes will provide over 40% of Scotland’s population with access to free bus travel.

We have also committed to long term investment of over £500 million in bus priority measures, and as part of this are implementing a Bus Partnership Fund (BPF). The Fund supports local authorities’ ambitions around tackling congestion’s impacts on bus journeys so that they are quicker and more reliable, and therefore more people make the choice to take the bus. The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 includes a range of improved tools for local transport authorities to improve bus services in their area. This approach recognises that buses are a local service and should be tailored to meet the needs of local communities. The tools available to local transport authorities include a new partnership model (the Bus Service Improvement Partnership or BSIP), franchising and allowing local transport authorities to provide local bus services.

Following public consultation, we are working with partners to implement those provisions of the Act through regulations and with associated guidance. However, partnerships that have been funded via BPF are already working towards establishing BSIPs. In this way the BPF funding will leverage further action and investment from all partners to improve bus services. We will also establish a new Community Bus Fund to support local authorities to improve services in their areas, including through the new tools provided by the 2019 Act.

With regards to rail, from April 2022 the Scottish Government will take over direct management of the ScotRail franchise, currently owned by Abellio. ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper services are currently almost entirely subsidised by Scottish Government and therefore by the taxpayer, for example the Scottish Government provided £1.8 billion of support between 2015-20. This investment makes a major contribution to keeping fares lower than they may be otherwise. ScotRail is also required to cap fares increases on the majority of the fares on offer, and in addition ScotRail offers a series of lower fares schemes targeting, as an example, young people and students, ensuring they are affordable.

Across Scotland, 75% of rail journeys are made on electric trains, and we have committed to make rail passenger services net zero by 2035, As outlined in Recommendation 29, we will also support ongoing electrification and decarbonisation of our rail network through our Rail Services Decarbonisation Plan and Rail Investment Strategy.

Recommendation 28: Oyster Card for Scotland

Introduce standardised smart ticketing for public transport across the whole country – an ‘Oyster card for Scotland’.


Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government supports this recommendation in principle. Our vision is that all journeys on Scotland’s public transport networks can be made using some form of smart ticketing or payment, and progress is already being made towards this ambition.


Scotland is the first country in the UK to offer smartcard compatibility across modes – where multiple tickets for different modes can be loaded onto one smartcard - and contactless payment is now being accepted on over 95% of buses in Scotland. Looking ahead, Transport Scotland is working towards all journeys on Scotland’s public transport networks being able to be made using a form of smart ticketing or payment.

Whilst we recognise the original ambition of the London Oyster, we already note that many passengers are transferring to the convenience of contactless payment. This reflects research undertaken in 2018 in Scotland which indicated that, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ system, passengers wanted choice for their smart travel options.

Over the next year we will be looking to deliver provisions in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 (‘the 2019 Act’) that will further accelerate and standardise smart uptake, reflecting customer requirement. The 2019 Act makes provision for using one technological standard for ticketing schemes - this will ensure everyone is using the same standard and should drive forward a coordinated approach, schemes and consistency, improving the customer experience. It also strengthens the powers local government have to introduce multi-operator, multi-modal ticketing, to meet the needs of people in their area.

As noted in the response to Recommendation 27, from 31 January 2022 we will be enabling young people resident in Scotland to travel free on buses up to and including the age of 21. This complements our Older and Disabled Persons Free Bus Scheme, which has over 1.4 million cardholders and provided 140.4 million journeys in 2019/20. These schemes together will provide nearly half of Scotland’s population with access to free bus travel.

Recommendation 29: Integrated Network Rail

Place rail travel at the core of an integrated transport system, by subsidising rail infrastructure to make it more affordable and resilient than air travel, particularly for mainland journeys in the UK.

Children’s Parliament: Create better railways to link up people in rural areas.


Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government supports this recommendation, and places rail services at the heart of a greener, sustainable and integrated transport and active travel vision, as set out in our National Transport Strategy.


Scotland’s Railway is already almost entirely subsidised by the Scottish Government, and therefore by the taxpayer. Over the period 2019-2024, the Scottish Government will provide £4.8 billion to Network Rail to maintain, renew and enhance railway infrastructure in Scotland. This will support continued improvements to the resilience of the network against the increased frequency of extreme weather as a result of climate change.

This also includes supporting on-going electrification and decarbonisation through our Rail Services Decarbonisation Plan and Rail Investment Strategy which will support greater modal shift of goods and passengers from road to rail.

An integrated rail network also requires investment by the UK Government and we are calling on them to provide further investment in high speed rail connections to Scotland, connecting communities and decreasing the need for single occupancy car journeys and air travel.

Photo Glasgow Queen Street Station

Photo of Glasgow Queen Street Station Platform