MINISTERS have been told that they should cut the cost of bus and rail travel to reach a target of cutting car miles by 20% by 2030 as part of their climate change commitments.

A new report from MSPs has highlighted how fares for public transport have risen “well above inflation”.

And a cross-party group of MSPs has said that “the cost of public transport needs to be cut in real terms”.

In her programme for government First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged that fares on the publicly owned ScotRail network would be frozen until at least March 2023.

But a new report by MSPs on Holyrood’s Cross Party Group on Sustainable Transport said that “increasingly expensive” fares for bus or train, coupled with the “hidden costs” of travelling by car could make public transport a “less attractive alternative”.

The report recommended action be taken to “ensure that alternatives to car travel are available and affordable”.

It added: “Considering the cost-of-living crisis and the cost increases of public transport over the past decades, the cost of public transport needs to be cut in real terms.

“The Scottish Government should review the affordability of bus and rail travel and ensure that Scots are able to afford using public transport.”

HeraldScotland: View showing buses queing in Hope street - the most polluted street in Scotland..

MSPs on the group made the recommendation after the report noted that “public transport costs, particularly bus fares, have risen well above inflation over the past years, while the cost of private car use has been rising below inflation and wages”.

The report said: “Ensuring that there are affordable and accessible public transport services that can compete with private car use in attractiveness will be a key element in delivering an equitable transport system.”

Ministers have also been urged to provide clarity around the “expected impacts” of the policy, and the timescales for implementing it.

To achieve the goal of cutting mileage by 20%, the cross party group is recommending ministers target “unnecessary car journeys”.

The report also called for vans – and not only cars – to be included as part of the traffic reduction target.

Group convener Graham Simpson said: “Cutting car miles by a fifth within just over seven years is a tall order.

“When it still costs a couple times more to travel by train than it would in petrol then you have to ask how we are ever going to encourage people on to public transport.”

The Conservative's shadow transport minister stressed the group’s report was not seeking to question the merits of the policy but added that it wanted to “drill down into how the target can be best and most fairly achieved”.

Mr Simpson said: “The report calls upon the Scottish Government to spell out what it plans to do, having set the target in the first place.”

Labour MSP and group deputy convener Sarah Boyack said: “My priorities would be a focus on ensuring that public transport is affordable and accessible, with a reversal of cuts to bus services, continued investment in active travel and political support for a shift to low carbon transport across all sectors.”

Fellow deputy convener and SNP MSP John Mason added that the report had “highlighted a range of issues which need to be addressed”.

Green MSP Mark Ruskell, also a deputy convener of the cross-party group, said: “What stands out for me is that there appears to be no route to meet climate targets without vehicle mileage reduction.

“Navigating our way to a better future will need the careful use of a wide range of demand management measures alongside investment in more attractive alternatives. Equalities issues need to be considered at the outset.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We know that to reduce car use, public transport has to be affordable and accessible.

“We have frozen rail fares until March 2023. ScotRail fares remain on average cheaper than those across the rest of Great Britain – this is because for a decade we have kept fare increases down by ensuring they are in line with no more than RPI as well as supporting various promotional fare offers with lower-still fares.”

The spokesperson continued: “We continue to provide financial support for bus services to keep services more extensive, and fares more affordable than would otherwise be the case.

“This financial year we are forecasting spend of up to £300 million to provide free bus travel for over two million people, including all children and young people under 22, disabled people and everyone over 60. The range of concessionary travel schemes in Scotland does not exist in any other part of the UK.

“We are also progressing the Fair Fares Review to ensure a sustainable and integrated approach to public transport fares. The review includes consideration of increasing inflationary pressures and the cost-of-living crisis, impacting both the costs of operating public transport and the affordability of using public transport.

“The Fair Fares Review is considering both the cost and availability of services and the range of discounts and concessionary schemes which are available on all modes including bus, rail and ferry.

“It will develop and assess options to create a fairer, more transparent system of fares across all modes that maintain and increase affordability for those who need it most, taking cognisance of the relative changes to the overall cost of travel. The review is expected to conclude in early 2023.”