Scottish Transport Statistics: what you need to know

20 March 2019

Anderston, Glasgow city centre. Photograph: Calam Pengilly

We look through the statistics so you don’t have to

At the end of last month Transport Scotland dropped their annual transport statistics to little fanfare. The document is over 300 pages long and it’s no surprise that few people bother to read it all the way through.

So let me break down the main points and takeaways from that behemoth of a document so that you don’t have to.

Road Transport Vehicles

Vehicle use is on the up despite climate warnings and government efforts to reduce the number of automobiles on our roads. 2.96 million vehicles were licensed for road use in 2017 up by 60,000 on the previous year. 83% of which were cars and of those cars 51% were petrol powered, 48% diesel powered, with electric and hybrid vehicles counting for less than 1% of the total share of licensed vehicles.

Though having said that, there were 3,000 more electric/hybrid vehicles than the previous year after having made a 7% increase on 2015, so there does seem to be a positive trend there, let’s hope it continues apace.

Qaisar Abbas, an Uber driver, spends many hours on Glasgow roads, he says the number of cars is increasing: “Business is good, people don’t like to take buses because they have to wait too long. Driving a car, you can get from A to B like that, no hanging around, no connections.”

The statistics come in the same month that the youth, the future of our planet, were skipping school to protest our treatment of the earth and so it should come as no surprise that those in the 17-29 bracket were the least likely to own a full—driving license. 31% of 17-19 year-olds had one and 55% of 20-29 year-olds did. The over-80s join this group for entirely different reasons, with just 47% those older than 80 owning a full driving license.

Bus & Coach Travel

If the government is serious about tackling climate change then it needs to get serious about public transport. Bus journeys have fallen by 8% in the last five years as fleet sizes have been reduced by 10%.

Adeline Tournier, 27, a librarian at the City of Glasgow College who still takes the bus every day to work has her reservations about the service offered by First Bus in Glasgow. She said: “the service is rubbish. Quite often buses drive straight past me when I’m waiting at a stop and though my bus is scheduled to arrive every 10 minutes sometimes I have to wait at least half an hour for one to show up.”

“I’d much prefer to take the subway but it’s not that close to my flat and so I take the bus instead.” She added.

Perhaps if our cities were not so clogged with cars then bus services would run on time and more people would be inclined to take them.

There is however, also the issue of profit. The companies that run the buses are not doing it for some kind of social good, that’s not what businesses do. So as soon as the endeavor starts becoming less profitable they’ll try to rectify that by hiking prices and cutting costs, leading to a worse service for everyone and opening up a vortex where bus use will continue to dwindle until it’s no longer a viable mode of transport.

This is evidenced by the fact that whilst passengers riding the bus is on the down, so are the number of seats available, with 1,872 less seats available than last year because of reductions in the size of the fleet.

Infographic: Calam Pengilly

Some people will be forced into buying cars to travel, exasperating the problem of congestion on our roads and emissions in the air. Others who can’t drive, can’t afford a car or don’t want to buy one (almost 30% of the public) will be affected and forced onto the increasingly expensive and decreasingly satisfactory rail network.

This is shameful considering that the statistics show that of the £684 million in revenue for bus and coach operators, 44% or £299 million was from local or government support (this does not include money firms receive from the government in the form of grants such as the Scottish Green Bus Fund or the Bus Investment Fund).

When nearly half of all revenue is fronted by government it begs the question why not nationalise the bus network as was proposed by Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader at their conference in Dundee this month.

Leonard said: “when the transport bill arrives in Holyrood later this year, we will fight to change the law, to put our bus services back in public hands. That way we can run them, not for profit, not to line the pockets of shareholders, but to give the public a service … that we will all benefit from.”

Leonard wants to make bus travel a ‘universal public service’ and this would certainly go some way to reducing the number of cars in our city and would also enhance the social mobility of much of our society.

Road Traffic

A fifth of all motorway traffic across the country was recorded within the City of Glasgow area, which means that our ‘dear green place’ is one of the most contaminated in the country. Figures obtained by Friends of the Earth show that Hope Street in the city centre is the most polluted in the country, exceeding the legal limit by 50%.

Gavin Thomson, air pollution campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland said on their website:

“These shocking figures show that the air pollution health crisis isn’t going away; in many areas it’s getting worse. With streets in Scotland’s cities still at illegal levels of air pollution, the Scottish Government’s ‘Cleaner Air for Scotland’ strategy has clearly failed to deliver. The current review of this strategy needs to result in a transformation in transport if we are to clean up Scotland’s air so that it is safe for people.”

“Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone, which only impacts a small number of buses initially, is hugely disappointing and will make no difference in its first year.” He added.

13 million tonnes of petrol and diesel was consumed in 2016. Diesel and petrol cars consumed 13 times more than buses and account for over half of all fuel consumption in Scotland, alongside HGV’s and Diesel Light Goods Vehicles (vans and trucks) which consume a third of the total.

Petrol consumption was down slightly on the previous year but diesel consumption continued to rise despite the fact of diesel engines being responsible for large amount of emissions.

The public are aware of the dangers of diesel engines but that fuel economy means they’re willing to overlook the detrimental effects in order to save money. After all, for lack of decent public transport options people are forced into buying cars to get around and not everyone can afford to have a conscience.

Infographic: Calam Pengilly

Reported Injury Road Accidents

The good news is that there a far less accidents being reported on the streets of Scotland. In the Greater Glasgow area alone, there were 200 less accidents than in the previous year.

Cars make up the majority of vehicles involved in accidents, which should come as no surprise when you consider the sheer number of cars out there.

One surprise, or not depending on who you speak to, is to see bicycles accounting for a 6% share in all accidents, despite owning a less than 1% share in total vehicles on Scottish roads.

This can be seen as either a reason for the government to pull their finger out and implement better cycling infrastructure, by advancing the Avenues project for example. Or it can be picked up on by the anti-cyclist brigade to show how reckless and irresponsible cyclists are.

It’s worth pointing out that 754 accidents were reported in which a bicycle was involved, 729 of which were casualties. Whereas of the 9,400 car accidents reported only 5,704 resulted in casualties.

This is likely because the majority of car accidents will be reported because of insurance claims, but in the case of cyclists, the need to report is not so great so actually we can assume that the number of accidents involving cyclists is greater than the data suggests.

Rail Services

What about our beloved rail network I hear you scream – you must be gagging for these figures. BBC Scotland’s documentary Inside Glasgow Central Station might have softened your hatred for Scotrail, but let’s see what the data has to say.

Surprisingly, customer satisfaction was up on the previous year, though the data only accounts for 2017 and much dissatisfaction with the national rail company has come about since new timetabling in 2018. The amount of vitriol pervading Twitter directed towards Scotrail belies these positive figures and makes you wonder who on earth they asked.

The figures show how 89.5% of trains arrived within five minutes of their scheduled arrival time. Firstly, five minutes can mean the difference between catching a connecting train and missing it. Secondly, the 89.5% figure pales into comparison when you analyse how many passenger journeys were affected by the remaining 10.5%, it works out as over 10 million. A grand total of 11,385 Scotrail trains were cancelled in 2017/18, 31 a day.


Scotland has more ‘green credentials’ than most nations, what with the number of wind farms dotted around the country, it’s no surprise that people want to recognise and applaud this.

Wind farms are good and so are the introduction of low emission zones (only in Glasgow so far), but if we’re to tackle the problem of climate change seriously then the number of cars on our streets needs to be reduced and our public transport system made a lot better.

73 people can fit on the largest of our buses, imagine taking 73 cars off the road and replacing them with a double decker bus. The roads would be clear for public transport vehicles to travel more freely and fewer emissions would be created per traveller.

Now we can’t just ask everyone to shift their car on Gumtree and take a bus into work tomorrow. The network would be overwhelmed. But, if government prioritises public transport over private and builds infrastructure to enhance the network then perhaps more people will be encouraged to take public transport.

If governments don’t facilitate it, car use and thus pollution levels will continue to rise. It’s time we got real about this issue and stopped pussyfooting around it.

A petition calling on Glasgow City Council and Michael Matheson, the minister for transport to improve public transport in the city has reached over 10,000 signatures. Ellie MacLeod from Get Glasgow Moving started the campaign on and other campaign groups like them are gaining traction in Glasgow.

The student strikes are showing that the emerging generation won’t stand by and watch whilst our world wastes away. Groups like Gobike who campaign for better cycling infrastructure throughout the Strathclyde area do good work to encourage people to use more active modes of transport too.

There are signs of encouragement from these groups and others, but let’s hope those with the power to really affect change are listening and next time round when these statistics drop, I’ll have better news to tell you.

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