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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Community Transport: a thriving movement in challenging times 

This opinion piece is 8 months old

David Kelly on how Community Transport is a way of plugging gaps in our public transport network

What happens to a community when the last bus disappears? More and more people across Scotland are finding out. 

It’s an increasingly familiar story in our rural, island and even urban communities. The decision-makers and their rationale can be different, but the outcome is too often the same. 

Cash-strapped local authorities are cutting back supported bus services to save money on subsidies for public transport. Commercial bus operators are withdrawing or reducing the frequency of services which are ‘not commercially viable’ – some by as much as 10% in 2023 alone. 

Scotland’s bus network is shrinking, leaving local people to pick up the pieces. More than 64,000 households are now without access to any kind of nearby service – never mind an affordable, frequent or reliable one. 

Local buses are essential services. They are an integral part of any healthy, thriving community. They bring people together to tackle exclusion, isolation and loneliness; support local economies by creating jobs and connecting to the high street; and provide sustainable access to amenities, education, employment and public services like community centres, hospitals, libraries and pharmacies. 

When local buses are lost, the impact can be devastating – on our society, our economy and our environment – because nearly one in three Scots do not have access to a car. Older people and disabled people without accessible transport can become effectively trapped in their own homes. Young people cannot access training or jobs. And GP appointments are missed. 

So communities are increasingly turning to us at the Community Transport Association (CTA) to help them figure out what to do next. We’ve fielded more enquiries this year than perhaps ever before. With years of expertise and experience in community development, local government and transport policy, our team provides tailored advice, training, resources and support to local charities, community groups and social enterprises to help them create new community-led solutions to unmet transport needs. 

Community Transport is a way of plugging gaps in our public transport network on a non-profit basis with a focus on accessibility and sustainability to enable all of these activities and connections to continue and perhaps even expand. 

In Glenfarg, we’ve helped local volunteers to set up a fantastic community-owned bus service, which has restored and expanded public transport connections between the village and Perth and beyond after the loss of an infrequent commercial service. Glenfarg Community Transport Group’s accessible, affordable and hourly service connects to Kinross now has over 300 passengers a week, three times as many as its vanished predecessor. 

In Strathaven, we’ve helped a local climate action group to set up an amazing express bus service connecting the South Lanarkshire town with Glasgow city centre (pictured). They’ve had over 50,000 passenger journeys since October 2022, at least 50% of which would otherwise have been made by car. It’s been a major success in reducing car use and carbon emissions. 

Our new report, Act Local, illustrates how community-led climate action can help Scotland deliver a Just Transition to net zero and to ensure no one and no community is left behind. Community Transport operators are making sustainable transport more accessible, affordable and attractive for everyone – regardless of age, disability, gender, income or geography. 

Like Glenfarg and Strathaven, there are now 20 communities across Scotland running their own bus services, from Glasgow to Highland to Midlothian. The Community Transport sector as a whole is growing with over 170 local operators now delivering everything from ‘dial-a-ride’ and non-emergency patient transport to car clubs and shared bikes. Their success is testament to the power of community and the potential of the third sector. 

There is so much to be proud of. Our recent Scotland Conference 2023 brought together the thriving movement of those who work and volunteer in our sector to celebrate these amazing stories of excellence and resilience. 

But we also heard how challenging it can be for those who shoulder the burden of responsibility. Driver shortages, rising costs and a lack of funding for core functions are major and growing headaches for leaders and trustees. CTA estimates that Community Transport vehicle prices have soared by 17% in the last 12 to 18 months. 

Communities require more investment and practical support from the Scottish Government, local government, funders and other stakeholders to keep Scotland’s buses moving. CTA stands in solidarity with the rest of the third sector and supports SCVO’s call for fair funding for us all and the essential work we do.  

If you’d like to find out more, please visit 

If you’d like advice and support on how to set up a Community Transport scheme in your area, or how to make sure your use of vehicles complies with legislation, regulations and best practice, please email

David Kelly is director for Scotland, Community Transport Association.