Cost-of-living crisis has deepened transport inequalities in Scotland, says new study

Posted: 21 November 2023 | | No comments yet

According to the new study, the cost-of-living crisis has forced those on low incomes to ‘drastically modify’ their travel habits, but has also had an unequal effect on women, millennials, rural residents and people with disabilities.

Cost-of-living crisis has deepened transport inequalities in Scotland, says new study

The cost-of-living crisis has deepened inequalities in the way that people in Scotland are able to travel, according to an Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) study.

Analysis of Transport Scotland survey results by researchers at ENU’s Transport Research Institute (TRI) and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki show that rising inflation during 2022 disproportionately affected how those from low-income households and ethnic minorities are able to get about.

More than one in four respondents said that they had changed their usual mode of transport to save money, while nearly 38% appeared to reduce their number of journeys.

While people on low incomes were forced to ‘drastically modify’ their travel habits, soaring costs also had an unequal effect on women, millennials, rural residents and people with disabilities.

The study concludes that more action needs to be taken to make transport more affordable and accessible, in order to prevent people from becoming socially isolated.

Achille Fonzone, Professor of Transport Analysis and Planning at Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Computing, Engineering & the Built Environment, said: “These findings shed light on how the cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated already existing inequalities in how people are able to get around.

“Travel makes up a large portion of people’s overall spending, and greatly influences inflation. Although latest figures signal an encouraging trend around personal vehicles and fuel, public transport fares are increasing above the general rise in living costs.

“If remedial measures are not taken soon by central government and local authorities, disparities will only deepen further,” he concluded.

Greg Fountas, Assistant Professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and Associate member of TRI, added: “During times of economic crisis, public transport should be leading the way towards more affordable, sustainable travel, otherwise more and more people will be at risk of transport poverty and, in turn, social exclusion.

“Prioritising investment in policies such as fare caps, concessionary ticket schemes, improved active travel infrastructure or community transport programmes would not only help to narrow these inequalities, but also help us towards environmental targets.” 

Other conclusions from the study, entitled ‘The Impact of the Cost-Of-Living Crisis on Travel Choices of Scottish Residents: An Exploratory Analysis’, include:

  • People living in the central belt, with more public transport options, were more likely to have changed how they travel, while people in Highlands and Islands were more prone to reducing the number of journeys  
  • Generally, respondents were more likely to reduce their trips rather than change transport method because of cost 
  • Those who responded to the survey later in 2022 were more likely to have changed their habits, as the impact of the cost-of-living crisis was felt 
  • Being from a low-income household was the most significant variable on reducing journeys 
  • Women were more likely to cut down on trips than men.

The Public Attitudes Survey by Transport Scotland, which was first conducted in 2020, formed the basis for this study. Three waves of the survey were carried out in 2022, the last of which coincided with inflation surpassing 11% – a 41-year high. Answers from 2,705 people, who were deemed representative of ‘a key strata’ of the Scottish population, were statistically analysed.

The findings, which are undergoing peer review, will be presented to a conference in the United States in 2024.