Public transport has become a much-discussed topic in UK policy. It is frequently presented as an important lever to achieve net zero carbon emissions, improve air quality and improve the economic performance of places. Reflecting this, there have been a number of local and national policy announcements in recent years designed to improve public transport networks.

Scotland and Glasgow are no exception. The Scottish Government has set out three main policies for public transport. First, it has set a target of reducing driving in Scotland by 20 per cent by 2030.1 Second, it has passed the Scottish Transport Act 2019 that allows bus franchising, municipal bus provision and the creation of Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPs) – models that, if implemented, move away from the deregulated bus system currently in place across most of Britain (except London). And third, it identified the multi-billion-pound Clyde Metro project as a key investment priority that will expand rail infrastructure in and around Glasgow in the coming decades.2 At the regional level, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) is also considering its role in improving Glasgow’s public transport network.3

There are three main reasons for Scottish policymakers to focus on improving public transport in Glasgow in particular. The first is that Glasgow’s economy underperforms relative to cities of a similar size on the Continent and in the United States, meaning the Scottish and UK economies are £7 billion pounds smaller than they should be each year.4 Centre for Cities estimates that the gap between how Glasgow currently performs and how it would if it was in line with international peers is akin to the size of the entire oil and gas industry in Scotland (4.6 per cent of Scottish GDP).5 Public transport in particular is likely to play a role in this.

The second is that Glasgow has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in the UK: 41 per cent of households didn’t own a car in the 2011 Census, well above Britain’s average of 26 per cent. This makes the city more dependent on the performance of its public transport network.

Third, transport choices have environmental implications, with air pollution in particular being a problem in big cities like Glasgow compared to more rural neighbours.6 Poor air quality and road-related injuries and deaths disproportionally affect the poorest in Glasgow, who are also the people least likely to drive.7 Modal shift from cars to public transport is one way of reducing these outcomes.

The purpose of this report is to assess the current performance of the public transport network in and around Glasgow, what improvements could be made and how many more people these could connect to the transport network. Given the long timescales required to deliver big infrastructure projects like Clyde Metro, it looks at what can be improved more immediately. First, it analyses how well public transport in Glasgow performs in comparison with other large cities in the UK and abroad. Second, it models the potential connectivity gains from greater regulation of the network, by both improving existing routes and setting new ones. Finally, it analyses the necessary steps to improve and integrate public transport and sets out what this means for funding and local governance structures. 

Box 1: Methodology

Definition of a city and region

This paper will focus almost entirely on Glasgow. Typically, the Centre for Cities classifies a city as its Primary Urban Area (PUA), using a measure of the built-up area of a large city or town, which spans beyond the Glasgow City local authority. As Glasgow and surrounding areas have different governance structures like the Glasgow City Region Cabinet (which manages the City Deal funding) and the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), those areas will be used when appropriate (e.g. SPT-related discussions will use that geography). Table 1 shows the definitions and differences among them.

Table 1: Geographies used in this report

Region Local authorities Population, million (2021) GVA, £ billion (2021)
Glasgow City Council Glasgow City 0.6 22.3
Glasgow Primary Urban Area (PUA) Includes the above and East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire 1.0 28.8
Glasgow City Region Includes the above and Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire 1.8 46.2
Strathclyde Region Includes the above and South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire and part of Argyll and Bute 2.2 54.8

Source: ONS

For domestic and international comparisons, the PUA definition of Glasgow will be used. When suitable and possible, data will be provided for the three geographical units. The transport metrics are based on actual connectivity (e.g. total number of people who can reach a specific point) so no specific geography is taken into consideration. The term ‘Glasgow and surrounding local authorities’ is used interchangeably across geographies, unless otherwise stated.

Data used for this research

This paper uses several public datasets. Public transport connectivity is from appendix tables of Conwell, Eckert and Mobarak (2022).8 Commuting take-ups by mode of transport and car ownership data are from the Scottish Census 2011. Data on economic performance are from ONS’ Subregional productivity: labour productivity indices by local authority district. Population data at the local authority level are provided by the ONS and data on international peers are taken from the Eurostat’s Urban Audit database.

Modelling section – definition of urban core

This paper includes a modelling section to estimate the potential gains of public transport integration. The modelling will focus on accessibility to ‘Glasgow’s urban core’ where jobs and services are concentrated (see Figure 5 for further details). There are around 230,000 jobs in Glasgow’s urban core: 22.9 per cent of all jobs (on 0.2 per cent of the land) in the 12 local authorities that are part of SPT.


  • 1 For further details, see: https://www.transport.gov.scot/publication/a-route-map-to-achieve-a-20-per-cent-reduction-in-car-kilometres-by-2030/
  • 2 For further details, see: https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=26965
  • 3 Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, A Call to Action: The Regional Transport Strategy for the west of Scotland 2023-2028
  • 4 Swinney P (2021), So you want to level up? London: Centre for Cities
  • 5 Swinney P, What levelling up should mean for Scotland, 20 October 2021
  • 6 Centre for Cities (2020), Cities Outlook 2020, London: Centre for Cities
  • 7 Massey-Chase, Frost S, Ranking L and Murphy L (2022), Fairly Reducing Car Use in Scottish Cities: A just transition for transport for low-income households, Edinburgh: IPPR Scotland
  • 8 Conwell, Eckert and Mobarak (2022), More Roads or Public Transit? Insights from Measuring City-Center Accessibility, Yale University: EGC Discussion Paper