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Transform debates the National Transport Strategy

Published 07 October 2015 by Jamie Wylie

NTS Invite graphic

John Webster reports:
With the Scottish Government carrying out a “Refresh” of the National Transport Strategy, we organised a meeting of our member groups to debate how the Strategy could be improved, and what the next Scottish Government administration — whatever party or parties end up forming it — can do to make place sustainable transport at its heart.

The debate was held at Edinburgh’s City Chambers on Thursday 1 October, and was followed by a drinks reception for further discussion.

The NTS debate was opened by Cllr Andrew Burns (City of Edinburgh Council’s Leader) who highighted that the City had been a Transform Scotland member since its very inception, and the Council had a high regard for the work undertaken over the years and for the campaigning support given to the CEC on Edinburgh Trams and congestion charging, amongst other things. He stated that Edinburgh has been at the forefront in many respects on transport issues, leading the way with bus lanes and car clubs, which were regarded as radical at the time but are now commonplace throughout the city. The Council also has a good track record with off-road cycle routes and are now working with Spokes on introducing segregated routes within the city. Cllr Burns is currently Chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance with the seven Scottish cities as members. This group strongly supports Transform Scotland’s Inter-City Express proposals and see the benefits that could accrue.

Prof. Tom Rye (Edinburgh Napier University Transport Research Institute) posed the question as to whether the 2006 NTS had met many of its objectives. The answer, sadly, seems to be ‘no’ with few outcomes meeting the target indicators. Spending is still heavily weighted towards road-building with several major schemes underway such as the Second Forth Road Bridge, dualling of the A9 then the A96 at a cost of around £6 billion. Strangely, although bus fares and rail fares had risen by 20% and 16% respectively since 2006, the cost of motoring was unchanged.

Paul Tetlaw (Transform Scotland) gave an overview of the Inter-City Express rail proposals and started by pointing out that much of the rail network north of Perth was single-track and that many journey times were no better or worse than at the end of the 19th century. Although the Scottish Government has stated it wants to match road and rail improvements this has not happened, with rail receiving only modest funding compared to road. The Inter-City Express campaign aims to show how rail could be brought up to a 21st century standard by dualling, electrification and re-opening the route between Inverkeithing and Kinross to Perth, saving half an hour in journey time.

David Livey (Sustrans Scotland) spoke on the topic of Arterial Cycle Routes. As an example, he spoke of Copenhagen where 45% of journeys into the city are by bike due to the extensive segregated cycling network into and throughout the city. London is building two major routes at the moment and these lead to increased cycling as a result of enhanced safety. In Strathclyde, he highlighted the ‘Bears Way’ constructed from Milngavie towards Glasgow.

David Hytch and Bill Main (Calmac) dealt with the issue of smart ticketing and the need for Transport Scotland to develop a system that operates across all transport modes and uses modern technology such as mobile phones to allow seamless journeys. They also discussed the need for a single date when timetables are changed by various companies in a synchronised manner. Better integration between transport modes is also required and they gave as an example the fact that ferries will wait for trains to arrive on the mainland but the opposite does not happen due to need to meet performance targets. They highlighted the need for further investment needed at ferry terminals to cope with increasing demand.

TS AGM 2015 - view from rear of room

Emilia Hanna (Friends of the Earth Scotland) spoke on how the 2006 NTS was good on rhetoric but poor in meeting objectives, including Air Quality, where 32 locations have failed the targets regularly. She was keen for Low Emission Zones to be implemented and the hope is that these will be more effective in improving air quality which leads to significant mortalities every year from related heart attacks and strokes. Several things are required to improve situation including reduced vehicle numbers, lower emissions (the Volkswagen emissions scandal was highlighted), more spend on car-free travel and other initiatives like 20mph limits and road pricing.

Alistair Kirkbride (Carplus) spoke on the success and growth of car clubs in the UK that leads to reduced congestion, reduced emissions and improved affordability to users. Trials are underway on the use of electric vehicles which are ideal for inner-city travel. Users tend to view improved reliability more important than faster journey times, so more emphasis should be placed on these aspects.

Steven Stewart (Stagecoach Group) said that buses offer good value for money, end-to-end journeys, and reliability. Bus received little public support as seen from an annual spend of £808m on rail, £695m on roads, compared with only £54m on buses. Sadly, congestion within many cities is getting worse with 22% of commuters affected by slow journey times. Steven highlighted the need for long-term investment, bus lane enforcement, junction priorities for public transport, more Park + Rides and improved interchanges. He quoted a figure of £1 bus investment leading to £3.30 in benefits.

The presentations were followed by a Q&A session when topics relating to road pricing, bus and rail investment, and the effectiveness of the NTS to date were raised. The evening ended with wine and snacks which allowed attendees to further discuss the issues of the day.