Public Health Scotland and Transport Scotland have today published a report on the changing patterns of transport use during the COVID-19 pandemic. It shows that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the number of trips people make and the modes of travel they use to get to work and education, access goods and services to meet with daily needs and to connect socially.

The most significant impact has been a large, and continued, reduction in public transport journeys. Although car journeys also reduced initially, they are now rising steadily. Walking and cycling, particularly for leisure, increased during lockdown but have reduced as restrictions eased. There is some evidence to suggest that levels of cycling have continued to be higher than during a similar period last year. Reduced capacity and use of public transport are likely to reduce transport options and add financial strain for people without access to a car, people on low incomes, older people, disabled people, those with health problems and younger people.

The report concludes that actions that limit increases in car traffic; support walking, wheeling and cycling; and protect the long-term viability of public transport should be prioritised and will bring positive benefits for health and wellbeing, sustainability and the local economy as we transition through and beyond COVID-19.

Claire Sweeney, Director of Place and Wellbeing at Public Health Scotland said:

“We know that the places we live in have a significant impact on health. At a time when people across Scotland are taking action to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it is important that we continue to support the development of healthy and equitable places as part of our response. How we move around is integral to this.

“Our transport systems affect both our health as individuals and our wellbeing as a community. It is often those living on lower incomes and in our poorest areas who have the worst experiences of health inequalities. We need to ensure that everyone has access to safe, healthy and affordable transport systems to use in their every day lives.

“This report highlights that reductions in public transport and increased car use may limit access to transport for some groups of people and contribute to increased health harms and this is a concern.

“Public Health Scotland will continue to work with partners across national and local government, the third sector and academia through our multi-agency partnership group to further understand how COVID-19 has affected use of transport, particularly for those at risk of poverty. We will work together to support the delivery of transport policy and interventions that will protect and promote health as well as support a transport system which is sustainable, equitable and promotes inclusive economic growth in our communities.”

View the COVID-19, transport use, health and health inequalities report and briefing paper

Last updated: 28 June 2021