ALMOST £19 million of funding has been pledged to roll out pop-up bus lanes and gates and improve air quality across Scotland as more people start to travel as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Scottish councils have been handed £10 million to roll out pop-up bus lanes to help speed up journey times for key workers and ease congestion in cities.

The Scottish Government has also pledged £8.8 million of funding to bus operators to improve air quality by retrofitting vehicles with emission-reducing technology.

The “bus priority rapid deployment fund” will allow councils to quickly put bus priority measures in place, in a similar fashion to pop-up active travel infrastructure that has been taken up by local authorities as more people turn to walking and cycling.

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The new fund will help congested areas of Scotland to put temporary measures in place, including bus lanes or gates, which will help make bus journeys quicker and more reliable for passengers.

Officials also hope the improved journey times will encourage people to use public transport instead of jumping back into their cars – amid concerns over social distancing on buses and trains.

Statistics from Transport Scotland shows that between July 6 and July 12, concessionary bus journeys were down by 70 per cent on the same period last year, rail journeys were down by 85 per cent, ferry journeys were down by 80 per cent – but car travel was only down by 20 per cent.

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Public transport has been given an exemption for passengers from different households to remain just one metre apart amid fears over the impact on capacity of transport providers.

Funding will also be made available to bus companies and operators to help improve the emissions created by vehicles – with Low Emission Zones, currently paused, hoped to be rolled out in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen “as soon as possible”, according to Transport Secretary Michael Matheson.

He added: “I’m pleased we can offer a new £10 million package of support to local authorities in order to reduce the impact of congestion on our busiest bus routes. At the same time we have improved the grant thresholds to encourage applications to our exhaust retrofit scheme in order to help operators meet our air quality objectives.

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“The bus sector is responding to not only increased operating costs during Covid-19, but also increasing congestion as restrictions are eased which will negatively impact on bus journey times.

“I hope these steps will be welcomed in conjunction with the action we have already taken to maintain the value of bus service operator grants and concessionary travel payments at pre-crisis levels. This is in addition to the £46.7 million emergency funding package we’re providing to ramp up services as the lockdown eases and demand picks up.”

“With capacity on buses reduced due to physical distancing, it’s important we leave space for those that need it most. While this step will make bus journey times faster on pinch points, I would continue to ask people to work from home and stay local if they can.”

But opposition MSPs have warned that communities need to be safeguarded from bus routes being dropped by bus operators.

Colin Smyth, Scottish Labour's transport spokesperson, said: "Across Scotland we have seen bus operators axe bus routes and this derisory funding for bus lanes will do little to stop that.

"The government needs to provide support to councils to save routes before we lose more of these life lines services and hand over to councils the powers Labour secured in the Transport Bill to let them run their own buses for the benefit of their communities." 

Officials in Edinburgh are hoping to draw up plans with neighbouring areas in including Fife to help improve regional public transport.

The city council's transport convener, Lesley Macinnes, said: "This funding to support the bus industry by the Scottish Government is extremely welcome and reflects the detailed work that we have been doing over the last few months.

"Working closely with neighbouring local authorities, bus operators and SEStran we have developed improvements to prioritise public transport in and around the city region, which this funding will facilitate."

“There is no doubt that the way we travel is set to change significantly in light of current circumstances and also long term, as we look to increase use of sustainable transport.

"Through partnership working we have examined routes in and around the city region, identifying issues, areas for improvement and how we can improve journey times to make bus travel even more reliable and attractive. We will be submitting a bid to this fund with the hope of realising some of these aims.”