Transport system unaffordable for too many people in the grip of poverty, new report finds.

Anti-poverty campaigners have today called for action to make Scotland’s transport system more affordable, after a new report found that Scotland’s transport system is too often tightening the grip of poverty on people’s lives.

Conducted by the Poverty Alliance and commissioned by Transport Scotland, the report found that public transport was essential for people living on low incomes in terms of accessing employment, as well as vital services such as childcare and education. But the research – based on interviews and focus groups with parents, carers and young people from low-income families – also found that the cost of public transport was often prohibitive and causing social isolation. Parents across the study reported inability to afford transport resulted in a reduction on other household spending, which for some had resulted in food bank use

It highlights how the unreliability and, for many people, unavailability of public transport particularly impacts families with young children, children with health conditions and disabled children; as alternative travel options are often scarce or unsuitable. In addition, the limited space available for mobility aids, wheelchairs and prams means frequent travel challenges for families with children who have additional needs.

The report is launched at a time of growing hardship across Scotland, with over one million people – including around one in four children – living in the grip of poverty even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the Scottish Government announced in March that free bus travel would be extended to all under-22s, the report adds to growing calls to go further. In May, the Poverty Alliance coordinated an open letter to Scotland’s party leaders – signed by organisations including Friends of the Earth, Scottish Youth Parliament and Barnardos Scotland – calling on them to support the call for an extension of free bus travel to all under-25s as well as everyone on low incomes benefits.

Peter Kelly, Director of Poverty Alliance says:

These findings support what communities have been telling us for many years; that too many families in Scotland are locked into hardship because of our transport system. In the just and compassionate society we all want to live in, our public services should help secure a decent life for everyone. Yet as this report makes clear, right now our transport system is tightening rather than loosening the grip of poverty.

That’s why action is needed now to address both the affordability and availability of public transport. There are a range of policy solutions that should be implemented, including – as participants in the research told us – widening access to free public transport for people on low incomes, as well as taking steps to better connect communities, particularly rural communities.   This action would also play an important role in our response to the climate emergency, and in supporting communities in a ‘just transition’ to ensure everyone can participate in and benefit from a more just and greener Scotland.

We urge all of Scotland’s politicians to hear the voices in this report and to act, by re-designing our transport system so that it works for everyone.

Minister for Transport, Graeme Dey says:

‘I thank the Poverty Alliance for working in partnership with Transport Scotland to explore the relationship between child poverty and transport, which highlights how transport availability and costs contribute to the hardships faced by some families.

Our National Transport Strategy sets out an ambition for everyone in Scotland to have fair access to the services we need. The findings from this research highlight the urgent need for us to develop actions to address the interlinked challenges of public transport availability and affordability on a specific and targeted basis.

We are already working to introduce the legal changes required to extend free bus travel to everyone under the age of 22. Building on this, I will ensure that further consideration is given to addressing the issues around the availability of public transport services, and I look forward to working with the Poverty Alliance to take forward the findings of this research.

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on our public transport system and the Scottish Government has to date committed additional financial support of up to £1 billion to the transport sector. As we work  to support a fair and sustainable economic recovery from COVID-19 it is imperative that we also introduce a fair system for paying for transport which alleviates the strain on those living in poverty, particularly children.

Quotes from participants in the research:

“I just wish it wasn’t so expensive to be able to take your children out for the day on public transport”. (Single parent, 2 children, urban family)

“I feel like prices on the bus shouldn’t be high, like that – like four fifty for an adult to get on the bus even for fifteen minutes, that could be a meal for a child. Like that could, that could go a long way for some families who maybe don’t have as much money as everyone else. So I feel like the costs for the buses have gotten higher and higher and it’s not done anyone good.” (Helen, 16)

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