Scottish Government needs to rebuild trust in public transport, report says
The Scottish Government needs to rebuild trust in public transport to avoid a “massive” post-pandemic increase in car use, a report has warned.
Transform Scotland, a membership organisation for sustainable transport, argues in its ‘Transport Recovery’ report that while there is a risk of resurgent car use as the lockdown gets lifted, there is a “golden opportunity” to deliver on targets and invest in greener options.
According to the group, whose members include CalMac, Abellio, Scotrail, WWF, Friends of the Earth Scotland and several universities and local authorities, the first step in encouraging a return to public transport, is for the Scottish Government to be clear on the risks associated by publishing guidelines and working with operators to put safety measures in place.
The report highlights Transport Scotland statistics showing rail and bus travel were estimated to be down by 90 and 95 per cent respectively during the first few weeks of lockdown.
Car use dropped by 75 per cent over the same period, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson told parliament in April.
Highlighting improvements to local air quality around the country and an increase in cycling as a result of a reduction in car use, the report says these benefits are “rapidly diminishing” as people return to driving.
The report also calls on the Scottish Government to give greater priority to improving bus services, particularly through honouring previous commitments made by Transport Scotland, such as its ‘managed motorways’ project announced in the 2019 programme for government.
It also encouraged investment in electric bus and light rail transport.
The Transport Secretary published a transport transition plan in May and estimated Scotland’s public transport network would be operating at 10-25 per cent capacity in the initial phases of lifting lockdown. He is expected to update parliament on transport plans in the coming weeks.
In the foreword to the report Christine McGlasson, managing director of Xplore Dundee, said: "We have had a glimpse into a future when the roads are not jammed with cars, when congestion is a thing of the past and the air in our towns and cities is cleaner and healthier.
“Before the threat of a massive post-pandemic increase in private car usage becomes reality, now is the time for operators and authorities to think in a joined-up way about how public transport, alongside active travel modes, can continue to reduce emissions in our cities, and for the public to return to bus and rail so that we can lock in the benefits of reduced congestion and cleaner air.”
Transform Scotland director Colin Howden said: “As painful and disruptive as it has been, the corona crisis will pass and we will still have the climate crisis to deal with. Only last week, ministers had to admit that they had again missed their climate targets. Transport is the prime culprit, being the largest source of emissions and the one where there has been no reductions in 30 years. Investment in public transport will be desperately needed to deliver deep cuts in climate emissions.
“Despite the threats of a post-lockdown spike in car use, we’ve seen no decisive action from Transport Scotland to head this off. Earlier this year, we were told that the bus priority on the Glasgow motorway network would be progressed swiftly, but we’ve seen no absolutely progress here. The reduced levels of traffic during the lockdown gave an opportunity for action but this has been wasted by Transport Scotland.
“In contrast to the local authorities who have scrambled to implement ‘Spaces for People’ schemes in a matter of weeks, there has been no progress in delivering either the ‘managed motorways’ commitment made by Scottish ministers in their climate emergency programme for government in September last year, nor on investing the £500m ‘Bus Partnership Fund’ for local bus priority. This is fundamentally not due to a lack of cash: Transport Scotland’s budget has risen year after year, and it remains able to press on with a multi-billion pound road-building programme.”