To coincide with the launch of its new inquiry report on public transport decarbonisation ‘Fossil-Free Future‘, the Cross Party Group (CPG) on Sustainable Transport met in the Scottish Parliament to discuss next steps for cutting emissions from Scotland’s public transport.
Transform policy officer Laura Hyde-White reports on the evening’s discussions below.
Transport decarbonisation progress
Graham Simpson MSP opened the meeting, outlining the Group’s recent work scrutinising public transport decarbonisation and ending the sector’s reliance on fossil fuels.
We were delighted to be joined by the Transport Minister Fiona Hyslop MSP who thanked the Group for its valuable inquiry into decarbonising Scotland’s buses, trains and ferries.
The Minister noted that transport is a particularly challenging sector to decarbonise. She reported on the Scottish Government’s efforts to cut emissions, including:
- the investment of over £65 million in public charging to date
- the investment of over £113 million capital in zero-emission buses since 2020
- the development of a Rail Decarbonisation Action Plan
- the commitment to deliver emission-free state-owned small ferries with the Small Vessel Replacement Programme
The Minister highlighted that technology is only one part of the solution, with the Climate Change Committee reporting that 60% of the changes needed to achieve our net zero target requiring an element of individual or societal behaviour change.
For transport, she noted, this involves considering how and why people travel. She cited the commitment to reduce car km driven by 20% by 2030 and under-22s free bus travel scheme as examples of the Government’s ambition to support behaviour change — to increase public transport and active travel use, and decrease the use of private cars.
Transform director Colin Howden followed with a summary of the Group’s inquiry.
He noted that 15 organisations from across the public transport and renewable energy sectors had submitted evidence to the inquiry and 4 key themes had emerged from their responses. These were:
1. The need for clear and consistent policy signals and financial incentives: Policy-makers should incentivise the transition to zero-carbon transport by using all financial and regulatory means within their power as passing costs on to operators & passengers will damage public transport demand.
2. The role of decarbonisation in assisting with modal shift objectives: The transition to decarbonised public transport services should be leveraged to facilitate behaviour change and encourage travellers to choose public transit (energy efficient) over private vehicle use (energy inefficient).
3. The role of public transport decarbonisation as a key component in Scotland’s low-carbon industrial strategy: Scotland should capitalise on its renewable energy capacity to develop a clear and coherent industrial strategy to support transport decarbonisation and boost local low-carbon economic opportunities.
4. The need to enhance knowledge-sharing in delivering decarbonisation: Measures to encourage knowledge transfer both between operators and within the respective industries should be encouraged to help minimise uncertainties for operators and deliver skills development and training opportunities across the sector.
In response to these the CPG report makes 5 recommendations for the Scottish Government as it looks to transition Scotland’s fleets of buses, trains and ferries to zero-emission, encourage modal shift and make progress towards its legally binding climate targets:
RECOMMENDATION 1: Decarbonising buses
Incentivise the purchase of zero-emission buses by introducing an enhanced Network Support Grant (NSG) rate for their use.
RECOMMENDATION 2: Decarbonising the railway
Put in place a rolling programme of rail electrification as part of a refresh of Transport Scotland’s Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan.
RECOMMENDATION 3: Decarbonising ferries
Make the presumption that, where possible, all new ferries procured should be plug-in electric.
RECOMMENDATION 4: Financing the transformation
Use the Scottish Government’s planned bond issue to finance investment in zero-carbon public transport infrastructure.
RECOMMENDATION 5: Boosting Scotland’s zero-carbon economy
Ensure the Scottish Government’s forthcoming ‘Green Industrial Strategy’ facilitates the development of local renewable energy sources which can be used to power Scotland’s future vehicle and vessel fleets.
Discussion: costs and fuels
Questions from delegates, including MSPs Mark Ruskell, Sarah Boyack and John Mason, covered costs, the feasibility of hydrogen and building and maintaining skills & expertise in Scotland as we decarbonise.
On costs and hydrogen, RIA Technical Director David Clarke stated that a consistent rolling programme of electrification is the best method for reducing costs, adding that hydrogen infrastructure remains very expensive.
Kevin Hobbs, CEO of CMAL, added that a hydrogen-powered vessel is twice the price of electric. He cited an example from Norway in which fuel for one Norwegian hydrogen powered vessel costs 5 times that of diesel.
Reflecting on zero-emission buses, Jamie Wilson, Head of Concepts and Advance Engineering at Alexander Dennis, stated that the industry does not expect a major reduction in vehicle costs. Despite this, when lifetime costs and robustness are considered, the overall cost of electrification balances out.
Overall, the expert panel emphasised the importance of strong policy on decarbonisation and maximising benefits for the economy and society as a whole.
Take a look at our photos from the evening below:
Read the report
Thanks to everyone who joined us on the night and to all who contributed to the ‘Fossil-Free Future’ report.
You can read the report here.
The CPG will now send this to the Government for response.