Pandemic ‘turning Scots away from public transport’

We take a trip on the roads and rails for a closer look at Scotland's transport network.

SNS via SNS Group

The pandemic is turning Scots off using public transport, a new survey for STV News suggests.

Travel networks are slowly getting back to normal as lockdown lifts, but for many the daily commute may have changed forever.

Nearly four in ten people said Covid-19 and social distancing had left them less likely to use trains and buses.

SNS via SNS Group
Social-distancing measures are in place on ScotRail trains.

The ScotPulse survey of 1889 adults for current affairs show Scotland Tonight – on STV at 7.30pm on Thursday – found:

  • 51% used public transport every month pre-pandemic, but this has fallen to 29%;
  • Before lockdown, 12% never used public transport – now tripled to 38%;
  • Covid-19 and social distancing was blamed by 38% of those wary of using buses and trains.
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Others told pollsters that lack of reliability and affordable services also meant they were unlikely to return to public transport.

Our findings came as no surprise to passenger-led watchdog Transport Focus.

Senior stakeholder manager Robert Samson said: “Concerns about social distancing and other Covid-related factors are making some people feel unsafe about using public transport.

“But there are a number of other factors that need to be taken into account, including that many people as a consequence of the pandemic have no need to travel, working from home and normal commuting patterns have been broken.”

Calls for cheaper fares

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The findings come as a report commissioned by the Scottish Government sparked calls for cheaper fares from anti-poverty campaigners.

Poverty Alliance said public transport was essential for people on low incomes to access employment, education and childcare.

Our survey found that 45% of former passengers could be tempted back to public transport if fares were lowered – rising to seven in ten under 35s.

Free bus travel is to be made available to all under 22s in Scotland, but the campaigners urged the government to go further.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance said: “Action is needed now to address both the affordability and availability of public transport.

Alan Harvey via SNS Group
Buchanan Street bus station was eerily quiet at the start of the pandemic.

“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.”

What is the government saying?

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Transport Scotland said operators had implemented various measures to manage Covid-19 risks, such as ventilation systems, cleaning and sanitising points.

It also said it understood “the challenges presented by current low levels of confidence in using public transport”.

A spokesperson added: “The first annual National Transport Strategy Delivery Plan, published in December 2020, includes an action to encourage people back on to public transport post-Covid-19, once it is safe and appropriate to do so.

“We also want to build on the momentum of the increased popularity of walking and cycling at certain points during the pandemic.

“As restrictions ease, demand for public transport will increase – however, we will still need to manage capacity to ensure physical distancing is maintained as much as possible.

“We are encouraging all those travelling, for whatever the purpose, to plan ahead, avoid busy times where possible and make use of real time planning information.”

Services are stepping up

Public transport providers are stepping up services as Scotland moves out of lockdown restrictions.

Train operator ScotRail’s passenger numbers plummeted by 90% after ‘work from home’ came into force in March last year.

But it’s recently added more than 400 extra services to its daily timetables, running almost 2000 trains per day across Scotland.

Bus giant Citylink’s timetable is also getting closer to its pre-pandemic state, with almost a full network available from this week, including summer services. It said services were generally around half-full.

Graham Wilson via Caledonian MacBrayne
CalMac is ferrying thousands of passengers every week.

Meanwhile, ferry operator CalMac has just ramped up its summer timetable, with thousands of passengers passing through terminals every week. 

Since the end of April, an average of 213 sailings and 11,000 passengers have departed and arrived at Oban – otherwise known as the “gateway to the isles” – every week.

On the road (and rail) again

We couldn’t do a story on public transport without taking a journey ourselves. 

So we opted to travel from Edinburgh to Oban by train, first taking a traditional commuter route between Waverley and Glasgow Queen Street, followed by the scenic West Highland Line. 

Buying a single on the day, I was taken aback by the £47 fare – that seemed steep. 

The first leg was smooth and on time, but few people were on the train – only about ten on the carriage. 

Among passengers, there was a huge mix of opinions, from someone pleased with ScotRail’s performance and discounts for over 50s (a return from Edinburgh to Mallaig cost him just £17) to a younger commuter who described her £26 Edinburgh-Glasgow ticket as “extortionate”.

Of course, there were no treats as catering is still suspended and a strict mask and social-distancing policy is in place. 

The West Highland Line route was certainly busier, with a mix of locals and visitors heading to various destinations. 

The line has featured in Hollywood films over the years  – including Harry Potter and Trainspotting, and, rumour has it, part of the new Star Wars series is being filmed nearby. 

I can see what all the fuss is about – it is a stunning journey, one which attracts everyone from day trippers to Munro baggers, railway enthusiasts, tourists and, of course, locals and commuters.

In chatting to passengers, time and time again we heard pleas for more affordable ticketing, but most were in agreement that travelling by train was more relaxing than driving. 

We got to Oban bang on time – and what a day for it; the sun was shining and many people were making the most of easing restrictions. 

STV News
We reached Oban bang on time.

And the ferry terminals were a hive of activity, with islanders and tourists keen to get out to the isles. 

Passengers we spoke to were pretty happy with the ferry service, talking about value for money and reliability. 

To finish off the trip and to get a more rounded picture of public transport in Scotland, we headed back to Glasgow by Citylink bus. 

Just as we boarded, we bumped into a couple we had spoken to on the train to Oban. 

Turned out their return trip to Bridge of Orchy had been cancelled – the next Oban-Glasgow train wasn’t until the following morning – so they had to get the bus back to Tyndrum. 

The bus had around 15 or so passengers, including a number of over 60s who were making the most of their 50p bus pass fare. 

As our survey suggests, it seems there’s work to be done to make public transport more affordable, attractive, and accessible to Scots. 

STV News
Great views of Rest and Be Thankful.

On our trip and in our survey, passengers told us they believed buses, trains and other transport is more expensive than driving. 

That was certainly my experience – I spent a total of £68.80; £47 on the one-way Edinburgh to Oban train ticket, and £21.80 for the single from Oban to Glasgow on the Citylink bus.  

Going by the cost of diesel and the fuel economy of my car, my sums suggest I’d have spent £23 on the same journey had I driven. 

But cost aside, it was a pretty enjoyable experience, with scenic views and no stress about driving or traffic. 

When it all goes according to plan, public transport may be a more relaxing way to travel – but next time, I’ll definitely be booking in advance. 

What else did the survey find?

  • Just over a third (36%) said better reliability would help lure them back to public transport;
  • 30% said availability and timings were a problem, particularly for those in the north of Scotland;
  • People outside the central belt were much less likely to recommend public transport to a friend, instead relying on cars;
  • Almost half (46%) won’t consider public transport for their next staycation, but almost a third (28%) were likely to consider it; 
  • Overall, 42% of Scots agreed public transport was more expensive than driving. 

Competition law suspended in bid to stop petrol panic-buying

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with oil companies and retailers on Sunday to address the issue.

coldsnowstorm via IStock
Fuel crisis: Competition law suspended in bid tackle fuel shortage due to panic-buying.

Competition law has been suspended in an attempt to get a grip on the fuel shortages being driven by panic-buying motorists, ministers have announced.

The decision comes after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with oil companies and retailers on Sunday to address another day of continued queuing for the pumps, with thousands of petrol stations running dry.

A scuffle at a north London petrol station was posted on social media as motorists waited to fill up their tanks in a bout of “frenzied buying” sparked after concerns from BP that the HGV driver shortage could impact its ability to keep up with fuel deliveries were leaked to the media.

Kwarteng opted to temporarily exempt the industry from the Competition Act to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

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The triggering of what is known as the Downstream Oil Protocol comes as the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) warned that as many as two-thirds of its membership of nearly 5500 independent outlets was out of fuel, with the rest of them “partly dry and running out soon”.

Kwarteng said: “We have long-standing contingency plans in place to work with industry so that fuel supplies can be maintained and deliveries can still be made in the event of a serious disruption.

“While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.

“This is why we will enact the Downstream Oil Protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.”

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In a separate joint statement from the likes of Shell, ExxonMobile and Greenergy, the industry reiterated that the pressures on supply were being caused by “temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel”.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson told the BBC the shortages were down to “panic buying, pure and simple”, with priority by oil companies being afforded to keeping motorway service station pumps topped up.

The intervention comes less than 24 hours after the Government announced a temporary visa scheme that will see 5000 foreign HGV drivers and 5500 poultry workers allowed into the UK on three-month contracts up to Christmas Eve in an attempt to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and tackle fuel delivery difficulties.

But retailers warned that the decision to relax immigration rules to fix supply chain issues was “too little, too late” to keep shop shelves fully stocked this Christmas.


Guests evacuated following incident at luxury hotel

Firefighters were called to the Macdonald Inchyra Grange Hotel in Grangemouth on Sunday evening.

STV News
Incident: Guests evacuated from Macdonald Inchyra Grange Hotel.

Guests have been evacuated following an incident at a luxury hotel in Forth Valley.

Firefighters were called to the Macdonald Inchyra Grange Hotel in Grangemouth on Sunday evening around 7.30pm. 

Two appliances were sent to the scene alongside specialist resources, where they remained at 11pm.

A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “SFRS were called at 7.30pm on Sunday September 26 to assist as part of a multi agency response to an incident at a hotel on Grange Road in Grangemouth. 

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“Operations control mobilised two appliances and specialist resources to the scene, where crews remain.”


More than 10,000 visas given to foreign workers ‘to save Christmas’

The temporary visa scheme will see opportunities created for 5000 HGV drivers and 5500 poultry workers.

Peter Cade via Getty Images
Temporary visas: The scheme aims to 'rescue Christmas' from supply shortages.

More than 10,000 foreign workers will be temporarily permitted to work as lorry drivers and in the food sector as ministers look to rescue Christmas from supply shortages.

A temporary visa scheme will see opportunities created for 5000 HGV drivers and 5500 poultry workers to take up employment in the UK until Christmas Eve, in a bid to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and toys and counter delivery difficulties at petrol stations.

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said the changes, with the visas available from next month, would “ensure preparations remain on track” for the festive season.

Retailers had warned the Government that it had just ten days to save Christmas from “significant disruption” due to a shortfall of about 90,000 drivers in the freight sector.

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Industry groups the Food and Drink Federation and Logistics UK both welcomed the visa changes, with federation chief Ian Wright calling the measures “pragmatic”.

But British Chamber of Commerce president Baroness McGregor-Smith said the changes were the “equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire” as it would “not be enough to address the scale of the problem”.

The announcement about immigration rules being relaxed to ease supply pressures comes amid scenes of lengthy queues at petrol stations after a shortage of specialised tanker drivers forced some fuel retailers to shut their pumps and ration sales.

As well as the short-term measure of opening up to foreign workers, the Ministry of Defence is also stepping in to provide examiners for lorry driving tests as ministers look to steadily increase the size of the workforce.

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Officials said the loan of MoD examiners to work alongside Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) employees would help put on “thousands of extra tests” over the next 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, nearly one million letters will be landing in the coming days on the doormats of people with HGV licences to encourage those who have left the industry to return.

The letter will set out the steps the haulage sector is taking to improve industry conditions, including increased wages, flexible working and fixed hours, according to the Department for Transport.

Shapps said: “This package of measures builds on the important work we have already done to ease this global crisis in the UK, and this Government continues to do everything we can to help the haulage and food industries contend with the HGV driver shortage.

“We are acting now but the industries must also play their part, with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.

“After a very difficult 18 months, I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.”

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a global shortage of lorry drivers, although there have been long-term issues in the UK with labour numbers amid an ageing workforce, low wages and poor truck stop conditions.

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The DfT said it recognised that importing foreign labour “will not be the long term solution” to the problem and that it wanted to see investment poured into establishing a robust domestic workforce.

Officials said the Government continued to support solving the high vacancy rate through improved testing and hiring, with better pay, working conditions and diversity.

Another long-term measure to turn the situation around will see the Department for Education plough up to £10m into creating new “skills bootcamps” to train up to 3000 more people to become HGV drivers.

The free, intensive courses will train drivers to undertake an entry level HGV licence (Category C) or a more advanced course to operate heavier and longer lorries (Category C&E).

Another 1000 people are expected to be trained through courses accessed locally and funded by the Government’s adult education budget.

Those accessing medical and HGV licences through the adult budget in the 2021/22 academic year will have their qualifications paid for by the state, with the funding backdated to anyone who started one of these qualifications on or after August 1.

More DVSA examiners will also be freed up to conduct lorry driver tests via a law change to allow driving examiners at the three emergency services and the MoD to be able to conduct driving tests for one another.

UK education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “HGV drivers keep this country running.

“We are taking action to tackle the shortage of drivers by removing barriers to help more people to launch new well-paid careers in the industry, supporting thousands to get the training they need to be road ready.”

UK environment secretary George Eustice said: “We have listened to concerns from the sector and we are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market.”

The Government said it had already streamlined the process for new HGV drivers while increasing the number of driving tests available to allow for an extra 50,000 tests to take place per year.


Further two deaths and 2556 new coronavirus cases reported

The test positivity rate in Scotland has increased slightly from 8.8% on Saturday to 8.9% on Sunday.

Gorica Poturak via IStock
Coronavirus: Two more deaths reported in past 24 hours.

A further two deaths and 2556 new cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Scotland overnight, according to official figures.

On Sunday, the Scottish Government revealed 30,652 new tests were carried out in the past 24 hours, with the test positivity rate rising slightly from 8.8% to 8.9%.

While there were just two reported deaths on Sunday, this may be due to register offices being closed on weekends.

There are 1004 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19, a decrease of one from Saturday, with 78 of those in intensive care, also a decrease of one.

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There have now been 4,176,832 people who have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccination, with 3,827,110 having received their second dose.


Soldiers will help ambulance service ‘for the long run’ if required

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack spoke as military personnel started a deployment with the Scottish Ambulance Service.

PA Media
It comes as the recent surge in Covid cases in Scotland has put further pressure on the NHS

Army personnel could be driving Scotland’s ambulances for longer than the two months originally planned, with Scottish secretary Alister Jack declaring the military support is “here for the long run” if needed.

A total of 114 soldiers have been drafted in to drive non-emergency vehicles for the Scottish Ambulance Service, with a further 111 members of the armed forces helping to staff coronavirus testing centres.

It comes as the recent surge in Covid cases in Scotland has put further pressure on the NHS, with some patients experiencing long waits for ambulances – something First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been clear is unacceptable.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf, who met some of the soldiers who are stepping in on Friday, said he expected their assistance would help make a “significant improvement” to the waiting times crisis.

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Jack said that while two months of support had initially been requested, military help could remain in place “longer if that’s what the Scottish Government needs and what it takes to help protect the public”.

Alister Jack insisted the forces helping the ambulance service were ‘here for the long run’ (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the Scottish secretary said: “The British military is always ready to deploy at the drop of a hat – but they are also here for the long run.

“Initially two months of support were requested, but let me be crystal clear about timescales.

“The UK’s Forces are not in any way restricting the amount of time available. We are happy for this operation to go on longer if that’s what the Scottish Government needs and what it takes to help protect the public.”

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Jack added: “I am pleased that we are able to work together as one to bring a quality UK asset such as the military to bear on problems.

“I say with confidence that if our NHS here in Scotland continues to struggle as winter bites, the UK military stands ready with much more help, which they can deliver in a heartbeat.”

Colonel Anthony Phillips, the commander of joint military command for Scotland, has previously said the forces deployment with the ambulance service could be extended.

Members of the armed forces from 68 Squadron from 7 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps  are now helping out, with approximately two-thirds of the troops based in the Glasgow area and a third in the Edinburgh region –  although they can be deployed elsewhere as required by the ambulance service.

Col Phillips stated on Friday: “Our commitment will be in the region of about two months.

“It is all conditions-based and if there is a requirement to look at that and extend, then that will be done in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish Government.”


Tom Fletcher and Strictly dance partner test positive for Covid

The McFly singer and his professional dance partner Amy Dowden have both contracted the virus.

Strictly Come Dancing via BBC
Covid-19: Tom and dance partner Amy have tested positive for the virus.

McFly star Tom Fletcher and his Strictly dance partner have tested positive for Covid-19 one day after the first live show of the series.

The BBC announced the singer and professional dancer Amy Dowden had contracted the virus on Sunday afternoon, and said they would be self-isolating.

They said in a statement: “Tom Fletcher and Amy Dowden have tested positive for Covid-19.

“The pair are now self-isolating separately following the latest Government guidelines.

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“While they will both miss Saturday’s live show, Strictly Come Dancing protocols mean that, all being well, they will return the following week.

“Strictly has and will continue to follow government guidelines in order to keep everyone safe.”

This means the pair will not be able to practice together for ten days, and Fletcher will miss McFly’s next tour performance on Sunday night.

The singer said he is “so, so sorry” to miss the gig and his band will perform without him at The SSE Hydro arena in Glasgow.

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McFly said on Twitter: “Unfortunately Tom is unwell and won’t be onstage with us tonight in Glasgow.

“He sends huge and heartfelt apologies to all the fans he won’t see tonight.

“The show will still be going ahead, we’re looking forward to seeing you all and need you guys to sing extra loud for us tonight.”

This follows reports that three of the shows dancers were unvaccinated, though there is no suggestion that either Fletcher or Dowden were among this number.

Dowden said she was vaccinated on February 4 in an Instagram post.

Fletcher and Dowden tackled a cha-cha to September by Earth, Wind and Fire in Strictly Come Dancing’s first live show of the 2021 series the night before testing positive.

The show has seen its television audience grow to almost eight million viewers, according to overnight ratings for Saturday.


Thousands hit the streets for first Kiltwalk in two years

The annual fundraising event went virtual in 2020 and early 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Big Partnership via Kiltwalk

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Glasgow clad in tartan to take part in the first Kiltwalk in two years.

Around 4000 participants took part in the event on Sunday, marching for nearly 500 charities of their choice. 

The annual event went virtual in 2020 and early 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this year, 11,500 kiltwalkers raised £4.1m for charity, with an additional £2.05m donated by the Hunter Foundation for 1055 charities. 

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Sir Tom Hunter has pledged to top up donations from Sunday’s Kiltwalk by 50%.

Participants took on a choice of two distances – the 16.5 mile Mighty Stride starting at Glasgow Green and ending at Dumbarton’s Meadow Park or the 3.5 mile Wee Wander from Glasgow Green to the Riverside Museum. 

This year’s events were tailored to accommodate social distancing, with walkers setting off from 7am in a series of staggered starts. 

Sir Tom said: “We’re so happy to be here this morning in Glasgow Green to see folk with smiling faces. We’re back!

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“When the pandemic hit, Kiltwalk faced uncertainty, like everyone else on the planet, but I listened to the Kiltwalk team saying we need to do something. The ability for charities to raise money went down but the need for charities went through the roof – it was the perfect storm.

“The money that is raised here will help people all over Scotland with a wee hand-up, not a hand-out.  

“Over 1300 Scottish charities this year will be helped by the Kiltwalk. It makes my heart sing.”

Three Hyundai cars donated by Arnold Clark will be won by three Kiltwalkers on Sunday.


Daniel Craig ‘loved filming in Scotland’ for final Bond movie

The actor will star as 007 in his final Bond movie No Time To Die, which is released on September 30.

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Daniel Craig has said he loved filming in Scotland for his final James Bond film, adding the country is “a beautiful place to be”.

The 53-year-old will star as 007 in his fifth and final Bond movie No Time To Die, which will be released at the end of this month following delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Scotland will have a starring role in the movie, with scenes also filmed in the country for Craig’s third Bond film Skyfall. 

“We did a nice chunk in Skyfall and we’re back again and we just had an amazing place where we filmed,” Craig told STV entertainment reporter Laura Boyd. 

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“I love Scotland and going back and filming up there.

“We were in the studio for months and then we went [to Glen Coe] and the space – it was such a relaxing time and the same on this [film], although we went driving across fields at 90mph and crashing cars and things.

“It was a beautiful place to be.”


Man treated in hospital after ‘targeted attack’ in city

A man was taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary Hospital following the incident on Saturday.

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There will be an increased police presence in the area as an investigation is carried out.

A police investigation has been launched after a ‘targeted attack’ which left a man in hospital.

Officers attended Garlieston Road in the Barlanark area of Glasgow on Saturday at around 9.25pm following reports of a injured man.

The 33-year-old was then taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary Hospital for treatment.

Police Scotland have indicated that they will have an increased presence in the area throughout their investigation.

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A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Around 9.25pm on Saturday, 25 September, police attended a report of man injured in Garlieston Road, Glasgow.

“The 33-year-old was taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary Hospital for treatment.

“Enquiries are ongoing and officers are following a positive line of enquiry.

“This was a targeted attack and there will be an increased police presence in the area throughout the investigation.”


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