August Newsletter — Campaigns UpdatePublished 20 August 2020 by Transform Scotland
Our early summer focus was on preparing a series of reports to influence Corona Recovery. We acted quickly to give sustainable transport a strong voice in the rapidly-evolving coronavirus situation:
- Our ‘Just Recovery’ report looked at the social justice impacts of the lockdown, a topic that had received minimal attention from the media or politicians.
- Our ‘Active Recovery’ report looked at how the improved conditions for walking and cycling during the lockdown could be made permanent.
- Our ‘Connected Recovery’ report looked at how digital infrastructure could help to avoid the need to travel in the first place, which has always been the starting point for the sustainable transport critique.
- Finally, our ‘Transport Recovery’ report discussed how public transport patronage could begin to recover, and the sorts of investments that will be required to build public transport share back up to an even higher level than before lockdown.
We were pleased to secure support from influential partners including the Poverty Alliance and Openreach Scotland. We presented the reports to Transform members through a series of videocalls. We shared the reports with Parliament committees and followed up with written evidence to the economy committee and the finance committee; meanwhile, our Paul Tetlaw gave oral evidence to the transport committee.
The summer saw two influential external advisory groups publish their advice to government. We were pleased to see one of our campaign priorities taken up by the Just Transition Commission, which had a very strong emphasis on bus services as part of its recommendations. Our external affairs manager Jess Pepper gave oral evidence to the commission, and we also published our written evidence. Yesterday’s announcement of the £9 million ‘Scottish Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme’ suggests that this message is getting through.
We also welcomed the recommendation by the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland that an independent body should be set up permanently to provide advice to government on capital expenditure priorities.
Earlier in the summer we reminded people of the benefits from sustainable tourism. This is a topic that we campaigned on in detail in previous years, with our car-free tourism website guide to Scotland’s top visitor attractions, and well-received reports which demonstrated the value of cycle tourism. While many people have been choosing not to fly overseas on holiday, we are yet to see concerted action by the Scottish tourist industry to emphasise that domestic tourism can be carried out by anything but the car.
Physical distancing measures continued to provide the focus here. Sustrans continue to lead the ‘Spaces for People’ initiative, which has probably given more roadspace over to walkers and cyclists more swiftly than any previous programme has achieved. Some schemes have gone down better than others, but it was always intended that ‘Spaces for People’ would be delivered with the principle of ‘try then modify’ in mind.
We were very pleased to see the publication of Transform Consulting’s access to bikes research commissioned by Cycling Scotland. This research, carried out by our enterprise manager Elspeth Wray, identified and analysed over 200 bike share schemes across Scotland. These schemes help people who can’t afford or don’t yet want to commit to buying their own bike.
We continued to advocate for a more positive and consistent position regarding the use of public transport. It was surprising to see airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair fly planes with zero physical distancing when bus and rail companies were still operating to 2-metre physical distancing. The airlines took significant amounts of cash from the UK Government yet this didn’t seem to affect their strong public challenge to government advice. The move to 1-metre physical distancing on public transport has somewhat improved its viability, but there remains a lot of uncertainty should government subsidy begin to decline.
It is not just bus operators that have been hit by the collapse in patronage. It was deeply disappointing to see ADL announce heavy job cuts explained by the collapse in orders for new buses. We have been strong advocates for Scotland to take advantage of its bus manufacturing capacity as part of the Green Recovery, and so this news comes at the worst possible time.
In happier news, our #lovemybus campaign, which we ran in tandem with Stagecoach West Scotland, has been nominated for at the Scottish Transport Awards. We are hopeful that we will be able to expand this campaign over the next year, working with more bus operators across Scotland. There is certainly a need for a strong campaign advocating the return to bus use.
After pressure from Transform Scotland and others, we were pleased to see the Scottish Government announce financial support for Edinburgh Trams and the Glasgow Subway. It took action a long time after the UK Government did likewise, and we hope that our intervention helped to speed action along here.
We were also pleased to see improved plans for the redevelopment of Edinburgh Waverley station as part of the Waverley Masterplan. The lack of investment in the public environment at Waverley has been a major theme for our rail campaign for many years, and it is pleasing that many of the recommendations we’ve made to the rail industry now feature strongly in the new plans for the station.
The Transport Scotland rail decarbonisation plan is also very welcome. However, we think that some of the measures promised for 2035 will realistically need to be brought forward to 2030.
Last week’s train crash at Stonehaven was shocking, but it remains the case that rail is a very safe mode of transport. While understanding how the tragic loss of life came about is understandably paramount, we are nonetheless concerned about potential longer-term impacts on the rail network. In years past, we were strong advocates for the introduction of the High-Speed Trains to the Scottish inter-city network, and it is sad to see a tragic crash before ScotRail had been able to get the full fleet of trains into operation.