WHEN work places and schools eventually begin to re-open and permission is gradually granted to hold small gatherings in coming weeks and months, the question of how we get around our towns and cities in Scotland will start to come into sharp focus.

Yesterday a UK-wide poll by transport consultants SYSTRA suggested the number of people using public transport in Britain’s cities could be 20% lower than normal after the lockdown restrictions are lifted. Rail use could drop by 27%, the survey suggested, and bus use by even more.

ScotRail told the Sunday National that usage during lockdown was 85% down. But it said it could not predict uptake post-lockdown until plans from the Scottish Government about what would and would not be permitted in coming months were further developed.

David McArthur associate director of Glasgow University’s Urban Big Data Centre, claims that fears around public transport could lead people to act in one of two ways.

“The question is will we continue to see the increase in walking and cycling we’ve seen during lockdown continue?” he said. “Will people choose that way to get to work? Or will everyone suddenly want to get back in the car, that little safe box they can be locked in?”

He claimed local authorities should seek to promote active travel by closing roads to cars, to make people feel safer.

“In the short term I am sure you could reduce traffic to prioritise cyclists and pedestrians, possibly closing roads on a temporary basis and then put in some nice infrastructure later,” he added. “In George Square in Glasgow they were looking at closing some of the roads and only having public transport on others.”

He suggested looking again at lowering the speed limit to 20mph, a Scottish Green proposal previously rejected by the Scottish Parliament, helping to reduce accidents and reduce pressure on the NHS.

On Friday cycling campaign group Pedal on Parliament launched an online campaign – Space for Distancing – calling for reallocation of road space to ensure people walking and cycling can stay 2m apart.

They are calling for temporary widening of pavements and segregated cycling lanes for commuters as well as residential roads to be closed to traffic. The approach has already been adopted in several cities including Berlin, Bogota and Milan.

Some have suggested that traffic may be much reduced regardless, with more people opting to continue to work from home. The SYSTRA poll also suggested that this trend was likely, helping to curb the increase in emissions feared if people opt to drive despite the climate emergency.

But McArthur’s colleague Dr Jinhyun Hong, a senior lecturer in transportation planning, said that Scotland should not give up on public transport but build confidence in its safety by learning from other countries as it started to re-open.

He added: “One of the biggest lessons is that in South Korea almost everyone wears a mask when they are travelling,” he added. “It is a very different culture from here. But I think we can adapt that to help our situation.”

Katie Hall from SYSTRA said: “Our climate emergency has not been cancelled. If people start rejecting public transport over the car that’s a massive step backwards. Public transport operators must rise to this challenge.”