IJ̳

Published: 6th JUNE 2024

Building better choices: the opportunities for fairer transport in rural Scotland

A new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research examines transport infrastructure in rural Scotland and presents recommendations for a fairer transport system. Scotland Director at IJ̳, Karen McGregor, explores the study and discusses the best way forward.

Three people crossing a bridge on the Loch Indaal Way.

Rural communities in Scotland are poorly served by most transport infrastructure, according to the report by the IPPR. Credit: IJ̳

“Transport in rural Scotland is not working for the people living there, particularly those living on low incomes.”

This is the blunt assessment of a new, independent report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) this week.

We all know that feeling. Desperately checking if we’ve missed the bus, because to miss it is to be stuck, seemingly endlessly, until the next one arrives.

Despite being a familiar experience, it’s one felt most acutely by our rural communities.

Poorly served by most transport infrastructure, by and large they have had to rely on their own cars to get around.

And while that might have been a solution in the past, it’s now becoming an increasingly unaffordable option.

As the report from the IPPR points out, increased mobility opens more opportunities for people living in rural areas to access employment, education and other vital public services.

At the same time, the Scottish Government has set its sights on cutting car miles by 20 percent by the end of the decade.

While we all share a responsibility to meet this target, action should be taken first by those who are most able to make changes.

For rural communities, there is a golden opportunity to build better communities and transport links.

Taking an innovative approach

The report shows that many people living in rural areas would prefer not to use cars but feel they have to.

Communities across rural Scotland want fairer choices. And they want people, not cars, to be at the heart of making these a reality.

Drawing on in-depth interviews and a workshop session with Scotland’s rural and low-income residents, the report is an invaluable source of policy recommendations.

These include:

  • Making funding available for anchor towns to deliver local public services, and regional transport authorities to ensure there is adequate public transport connectivity to anchor towns.
  • Local and regional transport authorities working together to deliver integrated transport networks that support multi-modal journeys.
  • Active travel infrastructure should be improved within and between rural communities, and speed limits should be lowered in residential areas.

People in rural communities need considered, innovative and circumstance specific solutions to combat car dependency and increase viable journey choices.

Supported by IJ̳, a new walking, wheeling and cycling path connects residents in Carnoustie to public transport for longer journeys. Credit: Russel Cramb, 2024

The role of active travel

The report highlights a common misconception.

While some may insist that active travel has a limited role to play in rural settings, more people use a bicycle to get to work in remote small towns than in large urban areas.

The survey respondents expressed a desire to travel actively more often and pointed to a lack of safe infrastructure, rather than an unwillingness to walk, wheel or cycle.

Making it safer and easier to walk, wheel or cycle for everyday, local trips - like nipping to the shops, visiting friends and family, or reaching workplaces and essential services - creates real, emission-reducing, health-improving and cost-effective travel choice.

But what about longer journeys?

That’s where reliable, public travel infrastructure comes in – along with making sure people have the freedom to reach their bus stop or train station under their own steam.

By connecting walking, wheeling and cycling routes with public transport hubs and nearby towns, people can more easily and sustainably get around.

One example is the traffic-free walking, wheeling and cycling path along the Angus coast, near a small town called Carnoustie. This project is backed by funding from the Scottish Government and designed and delivered through partnership between Angus Council and IJ̳.

Designated as part of the National Cycle Network, the active travel route will soon connect local residents with public transport so they can more easily leave the car at home for longer journeys.

Along with projects like these, public transport needs to be reliable, available and affordable for everyone.

A fairer deal for rural communities

The report by the IPPR outlines a vision for Scotland’s rural communities which gives everyone more transport freedom and better choices, helping the places they live in and travel through thrive.

A vision where everyone can travel around Scotland, reliably and affordably – without being locked-in to relying on their cars.

Here at IJ̳, we also believe in a fairer deal for rural communities.

Looking ahead, we shall continue to work together with partners to deliver an innovative transport system that empowers people to walk, wheel and cycle – no matter where they live.

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