Citizens Advice Scotland calls summit to fix rural transport inequality

Nathanael Williams

Consumer stakeholders and Scottish Government meet to discuss new transport strategy

CITIZENS Advice Scotland (CAS) will hold a summit today with the Scottish Government, transport and rural policy experts in Edinburgh to plan the way forward for rural bus services in Scotland.

The summit comes after the Scottish Government this week announced its plans to review its own National Transport Strategy.

Guests at the meeting will include the Scottish Government, the Scottish Association for Public Transport (SAPT), the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Transport Scotland, Which?, South East Scotland Passenger Transport (SESPT). Bus Users Scotland (Bus) and the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT).

"Our research has found that jobseekers in remote and rural areas are spending up to 15 per cent of their income on one round trip to the Jobcentre." Fraser Sutherland

Ahead of the event, CAS consumer spokesman Fraser Sutherland, said: "With the announcement only this week the national transport strategy is to be reviewed, CAS are leading the charge for improved bus connections in rural and remote Scotland with today’s summit.

"Too often we hear of rural consumers cut off from essential services like hospitals, banks and jobcentres because of poor public transport. For example, our research has found that jobseekers in remote and rural areas are spending up to 15 per cent of their income on one round trip to the jobcentre. 

"Other passengers are unable to get to colleges or hospitals at all at weekends, and a weekly trip to a supermarket can cost someone on minimum wage five per cent of their income.

"Situations like these are not acceptable in 21st century Scotland. The new transport strategy must set out ambitious plans for the next 20 years for Scotland’s bus network that not only ensures better accessibility but also better value for money for consumers.

"The objective of today’s summit is to bring together the best ideas and expert opinion to map out sensible and achievable solutions that can be implemented as quickly as possible. Scotland’s bus users deserve the best possible service. That’s what today is all about."

Thirty-eight per cent of locations surveyed had no Sunday service to the nearest hospital.

CAS, the biggest consumer advocate in Scotland, has done extensive research on issues effecting rural and remote communities with campaigns such as the 'postcode penalty' rural delivery charges and 'remotely excluded' research campaign.

In their research, almost a quarter of CAS clients, 23.6 per cent, live in rural Scotland or its most remote areas and this is compared to the 21 per cent of Scots overall that live there. 

In June of this year, CAS published its report called 'Round The Bend' which analysed bus services in 113 local communities across Scotland, gathering information on over 1,200 journeys.  

In the report, it cited the case in Stonehaven, where the median cost of a return journey to the nearest job centre is £9 and where weekend services are also debilitated overall with 38 per cent of locations in rural Scotland surveyed having no Sunday service to the nearest hospital. 

Susan McPhee, head of policy and public affairs at CAS, said: "We are looking forward to a detailed discussion on the challenges facing service providers and public services in these areas."

Almost a quarter of CAS clients, 23.6 per cent, live in rural Scotland or its most remote areas.

The passenger representational group Bus, which is funded by the Scottish Government, stressed the importance of reliable transport to people's lives in rural areas where the impact can be felt to a greater degree.

Greg McKay, press officer for Bus, said to CommonSpace: “Bus transport is crucial to people's lives, if you think of someone's bus being later by half an hour in an urban area, that is not such a damaging thing compared to the level of inconvenience experienced by rural passengers. It's far more detrimental.

"We do understand the realities and economics, the commercial aspects which mean that local authorities are working under pressure.

"Still, there are ways to find a better deal for rural passengers and we hope that a more creative arrangement can be reached on things like community transport and its links to commercial carriers."

The Scottish Government could not be reached for comment by CommonSpace. 

Picture courtesy of B4bees

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