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New report: ‘Just Recovery: reversing the lockdown inequalities’

Published 04 June 2020 by Transform Scotland

Thursday 4 June 2020

New report sets out recommendations for ensuring transport recovery doesn’t embed transport inequalities

Transform Scotland [1] has today (Thursday 4 June) published a new report, ‘Just Recovery’. The report sets out a series of recommendations for the Scottish Government in designing its transport response to coronavirus so that the negative impacts of the lockdown are not “prolonged indefinitely” for the Scottish households whose mobility has been most severely curtailed during the lockdown.

Colin Howden, Director of Transform Scotland, said:

“The most deprived areas of the country have been the hardest hit by the virus, and these are also the communities that are most reliant on the provision of regular, reliable and affordable public transport to access jobs and essential services. The percentage of households without access to a car is as high as 49% in the most deprived areas of Scotland. It is these people who have been worst affected by the lockdown due to the significant reduction in services and therefore in their opportunities to travel. In contrast, motorists’ freedom of choice in making essential journeys will in many instances have increased because of easier road traffic conditions. While it is probable that some public transport journeys will have switched to car, households with no car access do not have that choice. 

“The explicit commitment by the Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson in last week’s ‘Transport Transition Plan’ to a “Fair and Sustainable Restart” is extremely welcome. However, it is imperative that lessons are learned from the English experience of loosening the lockdown. There, journey opportunities have been extended for motorists but not for public transport users, while those now permitted to return to work are advised to use public transport only as a last resort. It is therefore worrying that the Scottish route map, in its present form, appears to follow suit by containing some provisions which would worsen the existing imbalances.”

In a foreword to the report, Peter Kelly, the Director of The Poverty Alliance, writes:

“This report shows how this inequality affects the transport systems we all rely on. It highlights that those who were reliant on public transport have been further disadvantaged by the measures brought in as a result of the lockdown. The changes that have been made to transport, and the likely continuing restrictions, will have an impact on our health, our environment and our incomes, with the biggest impacts on those with the lowest incomes. 

“As we begin to move out of lockdown it is time to redesign our transport systems – and our wider public services – in ways that lock in social justice and reduce inequalities. Implementing the proposals in this report will go some way to helping to do this, and to supporting a just and green recovery that ensures we build back better than before.”

The report makes four key recommendations:

* SERVICE FREQUENCIES. It is essential that pre-lockdown service frequencies are restored as quickly as possible to enhance overall capacity and to minimise any extension of journey times resulting from queuing or denial of boarding. On the bus network, this may entail putting more vehicles into service as duplicates at times of highest demand; on the rail network this will require additional peak services and running longer train formations whenever possible, peak and off-peak.

* FARES. Any increase in existing fares would be an additional burden on public transport users who have as a category been badly impacted by lockdown, and there must be a case for extending free or significantly discounted public transport travel to categories other than the elderly and disabled: most obviously, young workers or trainees.

* FACE COVERINGS. The Scottish government should make its procurement resources available to operators so that adequate face coverings can quickly be made available to passengers at boarding points, either free of charge or at nominal cost. (We understand that this policy was pursued in Spain.)

* TICKET PURCHASES. If pre-booking is made a requirement for use of rail services within Scotland, whether across the network or on particular routes, it is essential that the process is made as friction-free as possible, with easy on-line booking processes (including bookings for any connecting services within a single transaction), automated station booking facilities for last-minute passengers, and adequate telephone access for those unable to book on-line.

Howden concluded:

“All of the recommendations we make in our report are policy-neutral in their distributional effects: increased active travel and home working directly benefit both car and public transport users through reducing total demand on those modes. Recent research has however identified that younger workers – who as a cohort appear to be facing disproportionate challenges in gaining or returning to a place in the workforce post-lockdown – are less able to work from home and are more dependent on public transport for access to employment.

“It is essential that the plans for transport’s emergence, recovery and renewal contain targeted and financially-prioritised policy interventions, not only to protect the active travel advances that have been achieved, but also to ensure easy access to public transport to those who require it in the radically changed circumstances affecting its provision. Without such measures, lockdown will in effect be prolonged indefinitely for those Scottish households in Scotland whose mobility and access has already been most severely affected in the first phase of the nation’s pandemic response.”



[1] Transform Scotland

Transform Scotland is the national alliance for sustainable transport, bringing together organisations from the private, public and voluntary sectors. See <> for details.

[2] ‘Just Recovery’ report

This is the first in a series of reports that Transform will be publishing during June, with future papers on active travel, digital, and prospects for the recovery of public transport.