Bus and rail usage are not expected to recover fully to pre-covid levels in the foreseeable future. The commercial basis for rail franchising and bus operations is no longer viable.
The future of rail franchising is awaiting publication of the UK Williams Review. ScotRail is a self-contained network so unification of train operations and infrastructure as a concession or state-owned corporation is a likely outcome. But re-instating train services to pre- Covid levels while carrying fewer commuters will need higher subsidy irrespective of organisational changes.
Higher subsidy would also be needed if existing patterns of bus routes and services were to be maintained, at a time when government and local authority funds are under pressure. Rural transport is likely to be most vulnerable. Some councils, for instance Argyll and Bute, are now consulting on bus cutbacks.
A recovery strategy is needed urgently. Public funding for transport will need to be restructured to ensure that every town and village has access to a bus or train service regardless of geographic location.
SAPT has recently published a paper, Bus plus Train: The Benefits of Transport Integration, that makes the case for more integrated public transport in rural areas. It discusses the way this might be funded and makes specific proposals for bus and rail integration in Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, and Argyll and Bute.