In a very welcome departure from policy decisions of recent years, the Scottish government has announced a £500m funding package that will enable local authorities - in partnership with bus companies - to introduce bus priority and congestion busting schemes.

This is a very welcome, if long overdue, initiative. Spending on public transport infrastructure is not cheap and the list of needs is long so it is unsurprising that there is never quite enough money to go around. In recent years, the lion’s share of spending has been targeted at heavy, fixed rail infrastructure such as trains, trams and subway. A total of £1.5Bn has been spent or committed to in an effort to modernise, increase capacity and green the system.


Rail though, is the minority public transport mode compared to bus, which delivers 74% of public transport journeys in Scotland. In recent years, congestion, the cheap cost of car ownership and the subsidised rail network have all impacted on bus patronage. As usage has declined and operating costs rise bus companies are increasingly at odds between what they want to deliver as a service and the need to balance the books. Just like local authorities and national government, money is finite and decisions have had to be made.

The good news is that bus companies have continued to invest in new, greener vehicles and the air quality and carbon emissions of the bus fleet in Scotland is dropping significantly. Bus companies are limited in what they can do though so this infrastructure fund has come at a seminal moment for bus users and bus companies alike.


Modal shift is needed to get people out of cars and onto public transport. The system cannot be revolutionised at the drop of a hat so this crucial first investment in bus priority will be the acid test as to whether local authorities are willing to make the tough decisions required and whether bus can be seen as attractive enough to car users to give it a try. Undoubtedly, car drivers are not going to like it when they first learn of the plans. Experience has shown us that any sort of constraint upon the car is met with howls from the pro-car lobby. We must push on through this though because too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and in the case of the car, it is certainly the case.

Poor air quality and congestion is affecting people’s health and life chances and damaging our economy. Action is needed and thanks to the PfG announcement, lack of money now cannot be used as an easy excuse. As the pro-car lobby howl, local councillors get nervous. They worry about re-election and their own immediate job prospects. They must also remember, that bus users wield as much power in the voting booth as car drivers and they cannot go on deferring decisions through fear. The next couple of years is going to be very interesting indeed.

Ralph R Roberts is CEO at McGill’s Bus Service Ltd

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