WHEN it comes to improving transport in Scotland, widening motorways or faster links between cities is often seen as the way to make progress.

But one leading transport expert believes far more priority should given to making sure locals can easily get about their own town or city – by pedestrianising key parts of major streets such as Edinburgh's Royal Mile or providing better information at bus stops.

Derek Halden, chair of the Scottish Transport Studies Group, has called for more to be done to improve local journeys ahead of the publication of the results of a major study tomorrow, which looks at ways of encouraging Scots to swap their cars for walking, cycling and public transport. The Scottish Government's report will focus on the £15 million, four-year "Smarter Choices, Smarter Places" project, which tested out ways of improving local transport links in seven different communities ranging from Dumfries and Kirkwall to Glasgow and Dundee.

The improvements trialled have ranged from more pedestrian crossing and buses to the introduction of bike-rental schemes, cycle routes and school road-safety programmes.

The evaluation is expected to issue recommendations, including integrated travel and payment systems similar to the London Oyster card, so one ticket can be used on different forms of transport such as trains, buses, trams and subway systems.

Halden, one of the report's authors, said: "We need to start investing in not just the connections between cities, but the connections within cities and towns. We talk about widening the motorways being more important economically, but the evidence for that is mixed.

"Certainly it is very important to have good inter-city links, but the evidence is not mixed about pedestrianising the Royal Mile for example – it is 100% positive from the experience around Europe in cities like Munich, Amsterdam and Copenhagen."

Halden said the UK was lagging far behind other countries in terms of issues such as the creation of payment systems which can be used across different forms of transport.

He added: "It is not just building the infrastructure, but ensuring people know how to use it effectively – getting the ticketing schemes right and the information systems right.

"It is not just about putting the bus stops there but ensuring there is good paths to them and bus shelters and waiting areas with information – having a system that all hangs together. It is that sort of recommendation we are very much making."

Latest figures show more than two-thirds – 68% – of Scots usually used a car or van to get to work in 2011. In 1966, the equivalent figure was 21%.

While nearly a quarter of Scots – 24% – walked to work in 1966, that figure had halved by 2011.

Figures also show around 12% of Scots use the bus to get to work, 4% use the train and 2% go by bike, some 3% use other forms of transport such as motorbikes, lorries, taxis and ferries. People who work at home are not included in the figures.

John Lauder, national director of sustainable transport charity Sustrans Scotland, believes one of the main issues holding people back from using public transport is a lack of integration of services.

He said: "It is all very well to get one bus – but then your ticket doesn't work on the next bus you get onto or it doesn't work on the trains."

Lauder argued there was a case for looking at introducing more on-demand bus services or car-sharing clubs in more rural areas, to encourage people out of their cars.

"The costs have to be factored into it as well," he added. "It can actually work out to be less expensive for people to drive, in which case you have to ask what is the incentive [to use public transport]?"

When it comes to what passengers pay for their rail travel, research has suggested passengers in the UK pay considerably more for their fares than in many other countries. Train and bus fares have consistently risen for consumers in recent years.

The most recent comparison carried out by Passenger Focus four years ago found the UK was most expensive in Europe for unrestricted, or anytime, day return fares – more than three times higher than Spain, the cheapest country.

Passengers in the UK also faced forking out the highest amount for annual season tickets, which were more than four times higher than the cheapest country, Italy.

However figures show more people are using the railways – in the last year Scotland's main train operator ScotRail carried 83.3 million passengers, up 33% since 2004.

Iain Docherty, professor of public policy and governance at Glasgow University, said Scotland's rail network was "doing well" when viewed in a UK context. However, he added: "The UK as a whole is a long, long way behind the good examples of what you can do on the continent.

"In terms of an overall efficient and effective system, the German cities are often talked about as being very well planned, lots of trams and with a very comprehensive rail network.

"You get what you pay for, it is as simple as that. Traditionally, we haven't spent as much money on the transport network as other countries, although we have begun to close that gap a bit."

According to Green MSP Patrick Harvie, it is bus passengers that are often left "at the bottom of the pile". He has set up a website to enable passengers in Glasgow to air their views on making services better.

COMMENTS to the "Better Buses" campaign have raised issues ranging from the frustration of having to overpay due to not having correct change for the fare, to services departing up to four minutes early from the advertised time.

One visitor from France wrote of her experience of using buses in Glasgow saying: "I paid £1.85 for a journey of three bus stops and I cannot help comparing this with the transport fares of Lyon, the French city that I come from.

"With a city size pretty similar to Glasgow and integrated ticketing across all forms of transport, a city-wide ticket costs €1.60 (£1.25)."

Harvie said one concern was how the thousands of visitors who will come to Glasgow for next year's Commonwealth Games would view the bus system in the city. "We could be using the Games next year as a catalyst to really improve the service, to make sure we are providing much better information about bus services, to make sure we are making them more reliable," he said.

Calum McCallum, public transport campaigner at sustainable transport charity Transform Scotland, raised concerns that funding was being invested in roads projects at the expense of public transport.

"We would support investment in the road network in terms of making it fit for use," he said. "But if the Government wants people to make better [transport] choices which are less harmful to the environment and so on, then we have to have the investment to make the system suitable. We feel that investment is not taking place at the moment."

ScotRail said that recent improvements included removing 1,500 fare inconsistencies to make it easier for customers to find best-value fares as well as agreeing a freeze on off-peak fares from 2014. It also said multi-day tickets were available covering train, ferries, buses and coaches and 26 new cycle shelters were being installed at stations across Scotland.

A ScotRail spokesman said: "We have a long-term commitment to continually improving the travel experience for customers using Scotland's railways."

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, representing bus, coach and light rail operators, said factors such as integrated ticketing, real-time information and park-and-ride sites would help encourage use of public transport. But a spokesman added: "The first step – and the most important – is a commitment between the public sector and operators to work together."

Transport Scotland, the country's national transport agency, said £1 billion was invested annually to encourage a greater shift towards public transport. A £5 billion package of funding and investment for Scotland's railways between 2014 and 2019 has also been announced.

Plans are also under way to introduce the Saltire Card – a travel card which will allow passengers to pre-load money for fares for trains, buses, ferries, subways and trams nationwide.

It's all very well to get one bus – but then your ticket doesn't work on the next bus you get onto, or on the trains