BUS, ferry and train services in Scotland need “urgent improvements” if the plan to reduce car use is to be implemented “fairly”, a report has said.

The Just Transition Commission called on the Scottish Government to target investment in the right places to ensure that vulnerable groups aren’t left behind in efforts to target the climate emergency.

The report also highlighted risks that the changes needed to be made to reduce Scotland’s carbon emissions to meet targets could “prove unpopular” if they negatively impact shift workers and those who rely on cars, such as social care workers, those with disabilities or caring responsibilities.

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The current target set by the Scottish Government is to reduce car miles by 20% by 2030.

“The existing transport system is already highly inequitable, and rail, bus and ferry services need urgent improvements,” the report reads.

“Policies aimed at limiting car use could make this worse unless a clear, practical and affordable strategy is developed to tackle social isolation, support low-paid essential workers, expand access for people with mobility issues, and make affordable places and communities that have less need for car travel to access goods, services, amenities and facilities.”

The independent expert advisory group also said that a “long-term public information campaign” on what measures are being taken to reduce care miles must be introduced.

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It adds that a “whole system approach” should be taken and improving public transport is key to achieving “public consent for big changes”. The largest risk, the report says, is social isolation of vulnerable groups.

Professor Jim Skea, outgoing chair of the Just Transition Commission, said: “Our current transport system is far from just, and for many people it is already simply too difficult or expensive to get around.

“Building and maintaining trust and understanding around these kinds of changes will be key. “People need to have faith that everyone is paying their fair share and that the benefits outweigh the costs.

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“The climate crisis means every country in the world is going to face up to tough questions like this sooner or later.

“The good news is Scotland’s commitment to a just transition means we are well-placed to confront these issues together right now.”

Professor Jillian Anable, a member of the advisory panel and transport expert at Leeds University, said that decarbonising the transport system “requires rapid and wholescale changes to the vehicles we use” as well as how much they are used.

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On reaching the target to reduce car miles, she said: “This is a great opportunity to address some current inequalities whereby some people have to rely on inadequate and expensive public transport, others are forced to spend money on car travel that they struggle to afford, and others travel very high mileages, often in increasingly large cars.

“A just transition would involve redirecting resources into the supply of better public transport, walking and cycling facilities and planning housing and other facilities that are well connected by this infrastructure.”

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland and panel member, added: “If Scotland successfully delivers a just transition it will have helped contribute to a fairer society at the same time as addressing the climate and nature crises.

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“However, to deliver a transition to net zero that is fair for workers, communities, and consumers it’s crucial for decision-makers to go meet and listen to those who might be directly affected, as we have done.

“Specifically seeking out and hearing from those whose voices are often not heard will help ensure that the benefits as well as the burdens of the changes required are shared more equitably.”

Transport Scotland said the "most direct levers" of buying or running a petrol or diesel car, such as fuel duty and excise duty, are reserved to Westminster

“The Scottish Government is committed to making sustainable travel a more attractive option, which is why we invest over £2 billion annually to support public transport - providing up to 2.3m people in Scotland with access to free bus travel," a spokesperson said. 

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"We will work with all local authorities to support equitable measures which encourage active travel and accompany greater investment in public transport for a fairer and greener transport system.

“The draft route map sets out how we will reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030 - a commitment which demonstrates our level of ambition in meeting Scotland’s statutory targets."

They added that the scale of the challenge will require a "broad combination of interventions" from infrastructure to incentives and regulatory actions. 

"However, we are committed to a Just Transition and therefore agree with the Commission that approach must take into account the needs of those who may be less able to reduce car use, such as carers and those living with a disability, or in rural locations," Transport Scotland added.