CAMPAIGNERS have warned that a Scottish Government commitment to cut traffic by 20 per cent has been put in reverse as car journeys continue to rise.

The Scottish Government has committed to cut car journeys by 20% over the next decade as part of it’s updated climate change plan.

But new statistics published by the Government shows that the number of motor vehicles registered in Scotland is at an all-time high of around 3 million and even before the pandemic, the distance driven by motor vehicles on roads increased by 8% over the past five years to reach 48.7 billion vehicle kilometres in 2019.

MSPs have pledged to cut harmful carbon emissions by 75% of 1990 levels by 2030 on the way to Scotland becoming a carbon natural nation by 2045.

As part of that strategy, ministers expect that the current 11MtCO2e of carbon emitted by transport in Scotland each year will reduce to 6.8MtCO2e by 2028 where it is expected to flatline until at least 2032.

Emissions from transport made up more than one third of Scotland’s total emissions in 2018 – the largest polluting sector. Of this, road transport accounts for 65% of the emissions.

Fears have been raised that changing habits amid the pandemic will hamper efforts to encourage people to use more sustainable public transport – with ScotRail warning it doesn’t expect passenger numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels.

READ MORE: ScotRail chief warns pre-pandemic passengers may not return

But even before the pandemic, new statistics show a move away from using public transport by Scots.

The number of journeys being made by public transport in Scotland fell from 517 million in 2018 to 502 million in 2019.

The statistics show that there were 366 million bus journeys in 2019, accounting for 73% of all public transport journeys. Bus journeys fell by 3% between 2018 and 2019 and are down 12% over the past five years. Bus journeys in Scotland have almost halved since 1975.

In comparison, there were 96.4 million passenger journeys on ScotRail services in 2019/20, an increase of 4% compared with five years ago, but 1.4% less than 2018/19.

HeraldScotland: The Scottish Government's modelling for reducing transport emissionsThe Scottish Government's modelling for reducing transport emissions

Officials have pointed to rail passenger numbers being reported on the basis of financial years, so the fall in 2019/20 may be explained by the impact of the pandemic on travel demand at the end of that financial year.

Friends of the Earth Scotland has issues a warning over a pattern of car journeys increasing and bus travel falling.

The organisation’s air pollution campaigner, Gavin Thomson, said: “The new statistics show that in the year running up to the pandemic road traffic increased to record levels, with car-kilometres up 1% on the year before, while bus journeys decreased by over 3%. This continues the long-term trend, with car traffic increasing nearly 7% and bus journeys falling by nearly 12% over the last five years.

READ MORE: Edinburgh's tram extension could be derailed by working from home

“While the distance driven by cars increased 10% over the last decade we have a new Scottish Government target to reduce them by 20% over the next decade. The pandemic brought huge changes in Scotland in the way we travel as in every other aspect of life and we should use those changes to break the dominance of cars in our society.”

He added: “It’s too early to guess exactly what transport will look like after Covid, but we have already seen significant changes that could have lasting consequences. There’s been an unprecedented increase in cycling across Scotland, for key worker commutes and for exercise. The ‘Spaces for People’ initiative has been very effective in easing social distancing by widening pavements and creating pop up cycle lanes.

READ MORE: Climate professor calls for ban on road expansion plans in Scotland

“The increase in working from home and use of video conferencing could prove to be enduring changes that significantly reduces commuting. Even the AA has suggested public spending could be diverted from new road construction into broadband provision to address this societal change. This makes a great deal of sense, because there might be a sustained reduction in journeys across all transport modes, and an increased need for reliable internet coverage.

“Ultimately we’re dealing with twin crises of climate change and Covid-19, and public transport has an essential role to play in tackling both. We urgently need to reduce emissions, move away from fossil fuel car use, and create communities where walking and cycling are the easy, safe, default options for people.”

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Looking back at 2019 travel trends, I’m pleased to see more than two thirds of passengers reporting that they are very or fairly satisfied with public transport services – the first rise in five years, and a reflection of our record investment in public transport.

“These statistics are not reflective of the significant changes made in how we travel as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been mass shifts to home working, reductions in commuter journeys and some notable increases in cycling. Across a wide range of areas, we’re working to lock-in some of the positive changes as part of Scotland’s green recovery."

He added:  “This said, I recognise that we’ve still got some way to go in transitioning away from private vehicles and towards more sustainable public transport. This is why we’ve committed through our updated Climate Change Plan to reduce car kilometres travelled by 20% by 2030 – helping to put us on the road to net zero emissions by 2045.

“To support this, we’ve committed to long term investment of over £500 million in bus priority infrastructure, coupled with an further package of over £500 million to support active travel infrastructure and behavioural change projects over the next five years.

“The Scottish Government is working to provide a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system, helping deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for communities, businesses and visitors. Looking to the future, our second National Transport Strategy sets out a compelling vision for our transport system that seeks to protect our climate and improve lives over the next twenty years.”