16th April 2024

Transport connectivity is crucial to the economy.

At the Focus North conference, 87% of attendees rated our regional transport network as high or very high risk for our economic prosperity.

Our workforce relies on efficient and reliable public transport services to access training and employment.

Focus North has adopted transport for employment as a key strand in its partnership programme.

Transport to the region – including lifeline air services – are a separate programme theme which has already attracted success, with the confirmation of another year’s funding for the Wick-Aberdeen public service obligation flights.

Transport for employment is a difficult nut to crack, and we started by commissioning a detailed study to give us an evidence base to build on.

Urban Foresight Transport Study

In 2023, Focus North commissioned innovation consultancy Urban Foresight to undertake research into modes of transport in the region. Their report included a survey of local residents and stakeholders that captured more than 350 responses.

The responses identified four main desires from public transport users:

  • increased bus and train services
  • affordable fares
  • better connections between transport modes
  • a shift towards sustainable transport

The main challenges were:

  • infrequent and unreliable services
  • long journeys
  • poor infrastructure for active travel

Urban Foresight’s report did not aim to completely move away from private car usage, which it recognises as unavoidable due to the remote communities in the region. Instead, it focuses on reducing reliance on private cars by providing enhanced public transport options.

Urban Foresight proposed the following solutions:

  • a network of electric, community-owned vehicles offering flexible routes
  • mini-mobility hubs with bike sharing
  • consolidated booking and payment platforms
  • oversight by a community-led organisation

Under the most ambitious modelling scenario, the above changes would reduce private car journeys by 15% and create a three-fold increase in bus transport.

However, the solution requires a significant inward investment (running a fleet of 18 electric minivans over 10 years would cost upwards of £8m).

Next steps

NRS Dounreay is leading the Focus North partnership on the ‘transport for employment’ programme theme.

Both NRS Dounreay and Highland Council have a significant procurement spend on bus services in the area, and they are working together to find more innovative and co-ordinated ways of working.

In the more immediate term, Focus North is investigating the potential for pilot-level activity as a follow-on from the Urban Foresight report.

For more information, download our short briefing paper or read it in full below:

File Name: Future_Transport_NScotland_Final.pdf


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