THE next Scottish Government should introduce flexible, on-demand bus services to encourage passengers out of their cars after the pandemic, a leading transport charity has said.

Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK) said the move would "match up the increasingly empty spaces on buses with the very people who need those services".

It said those in areas where services have been cut back could use technology to "order" a bus, which could then be used right across their community.

Similar schemes are being piloted elsewhere. In Tees Valley in England, the Tees Flex service allows users to book a bus via a smartphone app, online or over the phone.

CoMoUK also called for a "mobility hub" to be created at every major NHS site as part of a package of shared transport measures.

The hubs would bring together public transport, shared transport and electric vehicle and bicycle facilities.

In a briefing to all parties ahead of May’s Holyrood election, the charity set out a number of steps including further investment and widespread promotion of car clubs and bike share schemes to help the country meet its climate change targets.

It also suggested there is "a potential role for GPs to prescribe cycling for patients who are overweight or obese to help increase activity levels and help treat conditions such as type 2 diabetes".

It called for "pilot prescription cycling programmes in areas of poor health, where there is a bike share scheme, to help reduce obesity levels in patients and improve health outcomes".

Lorna Finlayson, Scotland director of CoMoUK, said: "Scotland faces unprecedented challenges such as meeting our environmental targets, improving health and wellbeing and responding to the devastation caused by Covid.

"Shared transport has a major role to play, and we want to see all political parties take that seriously when they go to the people of Scotland asking for their vote.

"But this is about far more than simply making transport more efficient, cheaper and greener.

"Comprehensive improvements will also make society healthier in body and mind, and could deliver real economic benefits for everyone."

She added: "We also need to see a commitment to new ideas. Flexible, on-demand bus services would be one way to help Scottish communities which have been cut-off following service reductions across the country and encourage people out of their cars.

"Mobility hubs are also an important feature of the future.

"They help create 20-minute neighbourhoods – something that’s more important than ever in a post-pandemic era – and they create places of which communities can be really proud.

"This upcoming election is one of the highest-profile in many years.

"We want to see imagination and a commitment to shared transport at the very heart of parties’ plans."

CoMoUK said that by implementing a range of environmentally-friendly ideas, Scotland’s next government could oversee significant boosts to public health and the economy.

In its Greener, Fairer and Healthier Scotland briefing document, the charity said: "Prior to the pandemic, bus travel was in decline, with the number of bus journeys falling by around 100 million since 2008.

"As we emerge from the pandemic, there are a number of options to change the way people travel for the better.

"‘Flexible bus’ (or ‘demand responsive transport’) can improve public transport efficiency and therefore reduce private car dependency, particularly in rural areas and places currently poorly served by public transport.

"It would match up the increasingly empty spaces on buses with the very people who need those services, at the time and place they need them.

"People in urban and rural areas whose services may have been reduced or removed altogether, could use technology to ‘order’ a bus, which could then be used right across their community.

"With many services currently struggling to attract passengers, now is the time to think innovatively and introduce schemes that can benefit passengers in all communities across Scotland and secure vital transport links."