Labour's claim that bus services are 'grinding to a halt' is Half True 5

Labour’s claim that bus services are ‘grinding to a halt’ is Half True

Scottish Labour has pledged to re-regulate many areas of Scotland’s transport sector, including bus services.

The party has argued that there has been a general decline in bus services since the SNP entered government in 2007.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

As part of a campaign urging the SNP to safeguard free bus passes for the elderly, the party claimed bus services were “grinding to a halt”.

Ferret Fact Service assessed this statement and found it to be Half True.


Scotland’s bus industry is still governed by the 1985 Transport Act, which “removed all economic regulation from the industry, specifically authority control over fares, market entry and bus frequency”.

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2001, allowed local councils and bus service providers to make statutory agreements on standards which could be legally protected. It also made provisions for “bus quality contracts”, which could effectively re-regulate areas where the failure of current service could be established, but this option was not taken up by any councils. Many unprofitable routes are subsided by the government-funded Bus Service Operators’ Grant.

In recent years, politicians from across the party spectrum in Scotland have advocated various forms of re-regulation, and recent reports suggested the SNP was planning to create a new franchise system that would allow local authorities to set up municipal bus companies to compete for routes. However, Transport minister Humza Yousaf has ruled out “wholesale re-regulation”.

Statistics on travel by bus and coach in Scotland are provided by the Scottish Government’s Scottish Transport Statistics releases.

The claim from Scottish Labour that passenger numbers have declined by 78 million is based on this data, which shows in 2007/8 there were 488 million passenger journeys taken in Scotland. The latest statistics for 2015/16 show 409 million journeys. This is a difference of 79 million and a reduction of around 16 per cent.

A broader look at the statistics shows 2007/8 to be a high watermark for bus travel in Scotland, since the methodology for measuring journeys was changed in 2004.

There has been a recorded contraction in bus and coach journey numbers across Great Britain, with a three percentage point drop in passenger journeys in the last five years. The reduction in Scotland has been more significant, at five per cent.

This trend in passenger numbers has not occurred across all of Scotland’s public transport, with municipal service Lothian Buses reporting increases in recent years taking their passenger numbers to over 120 million. There has also been an increase in people using trains in the last five years.

Scottish Labour claim that bus services are “grinding to a halt”. While passenger numbers have reduced, there are other ways to measure Scotland’s bus provision.

A Citizens Advice Bureau survey into rural bus provision found inconsistency in service levels across Scotland, with 38 per cent of locations having no Sunday service that connected them with local hospitals.

Adjusted for inflation, passenger revenue has remained around the same level since 2007, while government support has decreased from £314m to £301m, with the bulk of the reduction coming in the last five years.

However, passenger satisfaction has increased, according to official statistics, since 2007. Passenger surveys conducted by the Scottish Households Survey show perceived improvements in safety, punctuality, reliability, and cleanliness.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

Scottish Labour’s claim about passenger numbers reducing is accurate. There has been a marked reduction in passenger journeys since 2007, as part of a general contraction of bus service in Scotland. This has been more significant than the reduction across Great Britain as a whole. However, the claim that overall service is “grinding to a halt” is not fully backed up by evidence, which shows public satisfaction increasing, revenue stabilising and over 400 million journeys still being taken.

This claim is half true.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at or join our community forum.

Photo thanks to Scott Wilson, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In response to a Ferret Fact Service request for evidence, Scottish Labour provided data from the Scottish Transport Release.

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