Last week the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) published a blog post looking at the past 20 years of devolved transport policy, entitled ‘You get what you pay for’. The article received coverage in the Scottish media, which largely misinterpreted its content suggest vehicle pollution is “fuelled by the rise in the cost of public transport”.

Yes, public transport costs have increased while the cost of motoring has fallen by 25% but as the author of the SPICe article makes clear, historical policy and investment decisions must be taken into account.

It is wrong to suggest that public transport is somehow the guilty party when it comes to our air quality issues. The impact of worsening congestion on our economy, environment, health and way of life surrounding the 2000 Transport Act and yet we recently repeated those conversations during the progress of the 2019 Transport Act.

The prioritisation of sustainable and active travel has been central to the government vision for transport from the 2005 White Paper Scotland’ Transport Future right up to the current draft National Transport Strategy – but there has been a failure to deliver. Bus journey times have increased by 20% in our towns and cities over the past 20 years.

Decreasing bus speeds are linked with falling patronage and a rise in operating costs faced by bus companies. However, 75% of the factors behind falling bus patronage are outwith the control of an industry that relies on public sector partners taking decisive action to give public transport users priority over the private car.

It needs the Scottish Government to invest in bus infrastructure in the same way that it has for cars and rail.

According to SPICe, historical under-investment in bus has seen the government provide 15p support per bus passenger journey compared to £4.26 per rail passenger journey.

Is it any wonder that rail use is increasing while bus isn’t? The green credentials of the bus are substantial, equating to less than 5% of road transport emissions compared to over 50% from the car – and one bus can replace 75 car journeys. However, the growth in car use, supported by large-scale investment in road projects and local decisions to priorities car access and low-cost parking above other modes is behind growing congestion and has forced some bus operators to remove services, some to increase fares and put others out of business entirely.

The Scottish Government has now committed £500 million to a Bus Partnership Fund to help alleviate this situation and CPT as the trade association for the bus and coach industries will play our part in helping deliver this. However, it is hugely unhelpful to focus on one symptom of congestion – fares – and ignore the widely acknowledged root cause. The private car.

Paul White is Director of CPT UK - Scotland