Our new website places front and centre a new set of priorities for sustainable transport. Our priorities concentrate on either infrastructure or incentives, as it is these factors which we regard as genuinely transformational. They are mostly framed in climate policy, but also the economy. They are positive. There are five headline priorities, with each accompanied by specific, targeted policy demands which we think eminently deliverable. They are written for a non-expert public audience, not policy wonks.
Our five headline priorities
‘Safe places for active travel’ requires no explanation. ‘Zero-carbon public transport’ is focussed on domestic transport networks, while ‘Zero-carbon connectivity’ is focussed on external links from Scotland. ‘Zero-carbon infrastructure’ is concerned with overall capital expenditure priorities. But none of the infrastructure demands will work without equal action on incentives, and that is where ‘Fair transport pricing’ comes in.
How we got here
So how did we get to this particular set of priorities? Just prior to the pandemic, we convened a conclave of all of Transform’s folk – volunteers, staff, board members, policy forum members – to try to come to some sort of consensus. The one key finding we took from that meeting was that this would be impossible. Every person wanted a different approach. We would have ended up with 50+ policies – which would have been a messaging failure. Some wanted a ‘modal’ approach. Some desired a framing within climate policy, while others wanted public health, quality of life, equalities or land use planning to be in the forefront. An emphasis on skills and innovation was suggested, but this didn’t suit the public-facing nature of the demands. Meanwhile, one person wanted us to play in the devolution fault lines, which might be entertaining but which again didn’t really suit our messaging objectives.
Instead of trying to keep everyone happy, we decided to focus our demands on those big two transformational factors of infrastructure and incentives. We also considered what we felt we could reasonably communicate to a public audience, to what degree our demands could be deemed ‘winnable’, the interests of many of our member organisations, and where we can have the most influence. We’ve proposed actions which readers might think could actually get done, rather than making big, vague statements. And last but by no means least, we took account of the interests of the Transform team.
We’re not going to claim that these demands are all that needs to be done to ‘fix’ transport. That would be daft. They’re also not a panacea: there are other policies and interventions which will also be required. But they do clearly set out what we want to see in Scottish transport over the next year or two.
Some will share the views of various attendees at our pre-covid conclave. Others will argue that legislation, regulation, education, governance, and/or ownership issues are more important. But we hold the firm view that infrastructure and incentives will remain the truly transformational factors.
Somewhat strangely, bus priority didn’t make it over the line as one of the ten despite our being rather strident on this matter in recent years; but don’t fear, we’re not going to go away on that topic. Nor did ferries make the cut. Instead, our ‘zero carbon public transport’ demand is focused on buses and trains, where we have more potential to influence major upcoming policy decisions. International aviation gets off lightly, with our immediate focus being on domestic aviation instead. We weren’t able to include anything on road safety (despite our first-ever campaign having been on slower speeds), and nothing on streetscape (despite our work back in the day to get Home Zones included in a Scottish transport act). There’s nothing on car sharing (despite our having led the project which resulted in the establishment of the car clubs programme in Scotland), nor on travel planning (or the wider ‘Smarter Choices’ agenda, something which we again previously took a leading role in promoting). And a particular regret is that we weren’t able to include something on community transport, which remains a neglected policy area. In particular given our recent re-establishment of a close working relationship with this sector’s leading organisation, the Community Transport Association. Finally, while we’ve always been keen on the ‘Avoid-Shift-Improve’ framing, it can also be too limiting and it was ultimately rejected; although we may still use it in certain instances.
Some will regret – and perhaps with justification – that their priorities are not featured. But we can only expect a certain amount of readers’ attention, and we’d set ourselves a limit of ten targeted demands. That said, I would of course be very happy to hear how others would have written this, and, who knows, we may use your ideas and formulations when we next come to revise our demands. Hopefully, we’ll win these ten quickly, and we’ll be able to move on to another ten!