Press Story

Rural Scots, particularly those living on low incomes, feel let down by Holyrood as poor bus provision leaves them stranded or reliant on cars.

Car use in Scotland has continued to grow, while bus miles have declined by 27 per cent since 2010, a new IPPR report shows.

Extensive interviews with people impacted by the lack of public transport and access to services in rural areas have revealed that those on low incomes are now facing heightened difficulties exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis. The report finds:

  • People are squeezed between increasing costs to run a car and high bus fares.
  • A lack of coordination between privately-run bus companies and local public services means that despite free bus travel for young people, some are left waiting 45 minutes for a bus to get home from school.
  • The high costs of living in rural areas are forcing some people to consider moving to urban areas.

Since 2015, transport has consistently been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Scotland, with emissions remaining relatively stable over the past three decades, unlike those from energy supply. Cars are responsible for 54 per cent of these emissions. In 2021, transport constituted 26 per cent of Scotland’s total emissions.

While people understand the need to act on climate change by reducing car use, they feel limited in the options available to them. For years, rural communities in Scotland have faced transport challenges such as insufficient service access, limited travel options, and commercial hurdles for operators in remote and thinly populated areas. Consequently, people in rural Scotland are often left with no choice but to fall back on private vehicles.

Declining bus provision in Scotland makes it hard for the Scottish government to meet its commitment to reduce car miles by 20 per cent by 2030, relative to a 2019 baseline. While bus miles have decreased by 27 per cent, the total distance travelled by passengers has dropped precipitously by 44 per cent.

The IPPR report shows that enhancing access to public or active transportation and ensuring universal access to essential services should extend beyond urban dwellers to encompass rural communities.

Decarbonising the transport system presents an opportunity to improve it for everyone. IPPR urges the Scottish government to promptly address issues in rural communities to alleviate burdens on residents and decrease carbon emissions.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • The Scottish government, with Transport Scotland, must devise a clear plan to cut transport emissions and car usage by 2030 and beyond, focusing on rural areas.
  • Anchor towns and communities should be designated, funded and supported as hubs for public services and transportation for rural people, so that they can live well locally and make trips using multiple modes of transportation.
  • Rural residents must be enabled to actively participate in transport decisions, with regional authorities ensuring that deliberative processes involve people from a wide range of backgrounds, including young people, those living on low incomes, those from minority backgrounds and those living with disabilities.

A working mother living in a rural area outside Dundee said:

  • “I can’t afford to buy food in the local shop where it’s 10 times more expensive than the supermarket, but getting there is a nightmare. My son takes the bus to school because he gets a free bus pass, but it gets him there 45 minutes early, and he’ll often miss it on the way home because it leaves 5 minutes after the end of the school day.”
  • I like where I live, it’s just me and my son, and it feels safe. I don’t want to move back to the city, but it’s getting to the point where I can’t afford to live out here.”

Maya Singer Hobbs, IPPR Senior Research Fellow, said:

Despite bold pledges and ambitious targets, the Scottish government has not delivered on reducing transport emissions. People living in rural communities need more transport options, not less, but this requires the national government to devise a plan and fund it adequately.”

Dave Hawkey, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR Scotland, said:

Any credible response to the climate emergency needs to include changes to how and how much we travel. Those changes must be embraced by people, not imposed on them. That means communities should be given the opportunity to take an active role in decisions affecting transport options and the services available in their area. The Scottish government and local authorities must make meaningful efforts to enable citizens to participate in change, otherwise emissions reductions will remain stalled.”


Maya Singer Hobbs, the report’s author, and Dave Hawkey of IPPR Scotland, are available for interview


Sukhada Tatke, Media and Impact Officer at IPPR Scotland 07901 169121

Two case studies are available for interviews.


  1. The IPPR paper, Wheels of Change by Maya Singer Hobbs, will be published at 00:01 on 6th June 2024. It will be available for download at:
  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request.
  3. The report is based on 17 in-depth interviews and one focus group carried out between 2 and 19 February 2024 with residents in rural and island communities, living on household incomes of under £20,000. They were recruited through Criteria recruitment agency. A two-day workshop was held with 11 residents on 6 and 11 March 2024.
  4. IPPR (the Institute for Public Policy Research) is an independent charity working towards a fairer, greener, and more prosperous society. We are researchers, communicators, and policy experts creating tangible progressive change, and turning bold ideas into common sense realities. Working across the UK, IPPR, IPPR North, and IPPR Scotland are deeply connected to the people of our nations and regions, and the issues our communities face. We have helped shape national conversations and progressive policy change for more than 30 years. From making the early case for the minimum wage and tackling regional inequality, to proposing a windfall tax on energy companies, IPPR’s research and policy work has put forward practical solutions for the crises facing society.
  5. IPPR Scotland is dedicated to supporting and improving public policy, working to achieve a progressive Scotland. IPPR Scotland is cross-party and neutral on the question of Scotland’s independence.