By Alistair Grant

PUBLIC transport journeys have plummeted by eight million in a year, while car use has increased, according to new statistics.

A report by Transport Scotland shows there were 517 million public transport trips in 2018/19, compared to 525 million the previous year.

Meanwhile, the number of kilometres travelled by car rose by 7.7 per cent from 33.8 billion to 36.4 billion between 2013/14 and 2018/19.

Campaigners said the statistics “paint a grim picture of a transport system in Scotland that is failing to respond to the climate emergency”.

Friends of the Earth Scotland air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson said: “Years of splurging billions on newer and bigger roads has come at a huge cost to our climate, public health and the rest of our transport system.”

He said the “continuing freefall of bus passenger numbers should be keeping politicians awake at night”.

He added: “Buses must be treated as the vital public service they are. Increasing access to free bus travel, and helping councils who want to run their own bus services can boost public health, connectivity and tackle climate change.”

Between 2013/14 and 2018/19, air passenger numbers rose by 26.2% from 23.3 million to 29.4 million and were up 2.1% on the previous 12 months.

The number of passenger journeys on Scotland’s railway has risen 13.3% in the past five years from 86.3 million to 97.8 million.

By comparison, bus passenger numbers dropped by 2.2% in one year and 9.8% over the five-year period, sitting at 380 million in 2018/19.

The slump in bus users came as it was announced young people in Scotland are to be given free bus passes from next year as part of a budget deal struck by the SNP and Greens.

Gina Hanrahan, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said transport is the biggest source of damaging climate emissions, and the figures are continuing to go in the wrong direction.

She added: “In order to get people out of their cars, and encourage them to use other modes of transport, we need greater investment in cleaner forms of transport to tackle climate change, clean up our dirty air and enhance public health.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Mike Rumbles insisted the statistics show “just how little is being done by the Scottish Government to promote active travel and public transport in Scotland”.

He said: “There is no point having government ministers standing up in the Parliament and paying lip service to environmentally friendly and healthy ways to travel if nothing is going to be done to improve the situation.

“We need to completely rethink the way we operate buses in Scotland. Passengers want frequency, reliability and convenience but rather than improving quality and encouraging more people to use the bus, many services are being reduced or cut altogether.”

But Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said he is confident actions being taken by the Scottish Government “will help deliver a more sustainable transport system for Scotland”. He said: “Rates of people walking, cycling and taking public transport to work remain largely stable.

“We doubled the active travel budget in 2018, maintained it in 2019 and have proposed increasing it further to a record level of over £85 million in the draft budget for 2020/21.

“Cycle journeys to and from Glasgow City Centre have more than doubled in less than 10 years and with more infrastructure coming online through our investment we will see improved rates in future years. While bus use has again decreased – and this is a decline we have seen across the UK since the 1960’s – I’m clear that the future of bus in Scotland has never been brighter with nearly three-quarters of public transport journeys made by bus.”

He said the Government spends more than £1 billion a year on public transport and has “provided flexible options” to help councils cut emissions.