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New Year message from Transform’s Chair

Published 02 January 2019 by Transform Scotland

Transform Scotland chair Phil Matthews

In a year dominated by Brexit, for most Scots it will still have been their day to day experiences that have affected their quality of life the most.

Our transport system will have been central to this. We will have used it to access work and leisure, to go on holiday, to visit family and friends, or to enjoy a healthy an active life through cycling and walking. The way our communities and transport are planned affects where we chose to live. When the system fails, through snow, flood or landslip, we recognise how important it is. The impact of a solitary drone on the UK’s airport system has been a reminder of the need to build resilient transport networks.

We must also ensure that transport meets wider needs, but in terms
of that objective we still have a long way to go. Our car-based transport systems is contributing to a public health and obesity crisis, to poor air quality and to congestion that damages the economy. At the same time our focus on the private car excludes the third of Scots with no access to a vehicle.

Over the last year Transform Scotland has continued to press for a sensible and sustainable approach to transport that meets the needs of the economy, environment and society. We have engaged with Ministers, Parliament and local authorities to argue the case. Through our research we have demonstrated the great economic and environmental benefits of cycling to the Scottish economy, and of rail over air travel within the UK.

We have seen some progress. The roll out of new, electrified trains across central Scotland will help improve journeys and travel times in the coming years. The introduction of new intercity trains linking the central belt to Aberdeen and Inverness is also a welcome advance. The Government’s doubling of funding for active travel is to be commended as a good first step towards a properly balanced approach to investment.

Despite that, major challenges remain. There has been a steady drop in bus usage and no increase overall in the use of more sustainable transport modes. While progress has been achieved in cutting Scotland’s carbon in other sectors, greenhouse gases emissions from transport have not declined at all in the last decade. In the year when the threats posed by climate change became ever more stark, and where Scotland aspires to global leadership, this is not tenable.

The coming year presents many opportunities to turn things around. A Transport Bill is progressing through Parliament and the Government’s Transport Strategy is under review. Most significantly of all, work will start on the new Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR), which sets out the Government’s priorities for future infrastructure investment. This will be a litmus test of the Government’s commitment to a low carbon and sustainable transport system that promotes public health.

Transform Scotland will be engaged in all this work. We also recognise the increasing activity at a city-region or local government level. The Glasgow Connectivity Commission, which reported in 2018, has shown how, at a city level, the public and private sector can work to develop a shared and more sustainable vision of the future. We would like to see more such initiatives. We will also continue to advocate the innovative and often lower cost and simple measures that can deliver the biggest gains. For example, Workplace Parking Levies (WPL) have been used in England and have helped cut congestion and raise funds for investment in public transport.

With all that is going on at national and local level, 2019 has the potential to be the year when we can take some big steps towards low carbon, resilient, fair and effective transport system. Transform Scotland will continue to be a key advocate of change, building an evidence base and setting out a vision of how transport can be a cornerstone of liveable and healthy towns, cities and rural communities.