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Scotland's Transport: Delivering Improvements - Response of the Policy Group of the Scottish Branch of the Institute of Logistics and Transport

1. Introduction.
Publication of this document was awaited with keen interest but the Institute is disappointed with the contents. We feel that an opportunity has been lost to present a forward looking programme of activity which best meets the future transport needs of Scotland.

The Institute welcomed the vision set out in the 1998 Integrated Transport White Paper 'Travel Choices for Scotland'. Widespread consultation on the subsequent daughter documents was also appreciated and the Institute commented widely on them. It was pleasing to note that our comments and those from other like-minded bodies had been taken into account and that changes were made to some initial proposals which meant there was little in the Integrated Transport Bill of 2000 with which the Institute disagreed. We did however express regret at that time that there was a lack of all embracing vision and there were some significant omissions such as a lack of proper regard to freight movement.

The Institute considers that 'Scotland's Transport - Delivering Improvements' has missed an opportunity to build on the Executives good intentions and present a comprehensive vision for transport development in Scotland. Although comments were not invited we feel it would be helpful to highlight our main concerns.

2. Vision.
We had hoped to be presented with a vision which built on the previous good work and led to a consistency of approach and an evolved strategy which would receive widespread support. This the document fails to do and the vision expressed therein purports to be more than it is, with an apparent emphasis on projecting extensive new transport developments, when this is not backed up by the envisaged programme. The document states that the proposals are not idle promises but have either been delivered or will be delivered from funding already in place. There is reference to a "levering in" of resources which are required to deliver but how can this be the case when it is clear in the section on Funding that allocations are to 2005-06 and the strategy is to 2021?

The real position only becomes explicit after closer examination later in the document when it is made clear that "much falls outside the 3 year time horizon of the current spending review, others dependent on commitment of partners or resources from congestion charging". Taking this into account the vision is clearly too optimistic without clarification of the extent of financial commitment with so many competing priorities and the necessary concurrence of other bodies, particularly local authorities.

A fundamental issue is the statement in the Foreward that "Scots will increasingly be commuting further and longer to work". This may be true following past development practice which has led to longer distance travel needs which will increasingly be met by private car if there is not an attractive alternative. A bold statement such as this suggests however that transport policies and programmes can do little to arrest the current trend and that effectively we are governed by a demand led approach.

In practice this is not the case and more emphasis should be given to action which reduces the need to travel and the length of journeys made, particularly by private car. There should be more emphasis on developing links to planning and economic development policies to reduce the need to travel as well as more extensive use of land use planning to facilitate developments that public transport can serve well and encourage travel other than by private car. Better planning in the wider sense should be one of the "key policy tools."

3. Land-Use Development.
A better acknowledgement of the role of the planning process would assist in interpreting the various comments in the document regarding use of public transport. For example on page 6 we are informed "public transport system cannot cater effectively for all journeys, more people need to use public transport", "when public transport is made workable, people use it". These statements, whilst true can only sensibly be reconciled by acknowledgement of the role of the planning process. In particular it should be made explicit that the current location of many homes and workplaces makes use of public transport difficult if not impossible for commuting. It should also be stressed that current trends are exacerbating the situation and that action is required to facilitate a change in travel patterns which enables more use of public transport as a suitable alternative to the car. In particular more emphasis should be placed on developing brownfield areas of land and using gap sites as well as developing industry and housing close together and with easy access to public transport.

The role of planning needs to be referred to more on page 8 of the document in tackling congestion. The statement that "changes in culture and attitude are the most fundamental issues in achieving sustainable transport" whilst having truth, does not acknowledge the spread of population and related activities which have taken place at an increasing rate throughout the UK for the last 80 years or so. Any attempt to improve the attractions of public transport must not only recognise the role of planning but also the degree to which journeys have already become complicated. For many journeys the traditional hub and spoke route structure of our urban transport networks and tariff systems usually incur penalties every time a change of mode, if not vehicle, is made and do not represent an attractive alternative to use of the private car.

4. Overall Requirements.
The difficulties in the present system and the problems in overcoming them must be tackled in a realistic fashion if substantial benefits are to be obtained. The simplistic approach in the document and lists of projects which purport to achieve more than they realistically can is not the way forward. The more fundamental issues must be tackled as part of an holistic approach.

There is a clear need to tackle congestion, particularly in and around the four largest cities. There is a danger however, in the Minister setting this out as the over-riding concern, that the major problems in tackling remoteness and peripherality - as well as ensuring efficient movement for business and goods, travel and for tourism throughout the Country - may not receive sufficient priority. Nine out of the ten priorities envisaged for investment are predominately in public transport. Whilst all of these are to be supported there is a need to ensure concurrent development of the wider road network. More emphasis should be given to the needs of freight movement in both urban and rural areas and whilst maximising the potential for rail-freight as set out on page 12, the programme should ensure that freight movement by road is not prejudiced. It is essential that both road and rail infrastructure can accommodate free movement of freight.

5. Urban Needs.
With regard to urban congestion the aspiration to stabilise road traffic on average at 2001 levels by 2021 is admirable but should not be confined to the four largest cities. The projected changes in traffic levels for each of the four cities are widely different and much more extensive investigation is clearly necessary to identify the reasons. It is essential to identify what is driving car ownership, car use and congestion in each city and the assumptions made by each of the Councils in arriving at the predictions. The differences are so significant that detailed attention is essential to ensure that there is widespread confidence in the conclusions and that all assumptions regarding investment and associated funding together with obtaining public support for relevant action are reasonable. The Executive's plan to test the "realism" of the main city targets by the end of 2002 and identify necessary measures, must have regard to all of these factors. The aspiration should of course be for all urban areas to follow the lead of Edinburgh and Aberdeen with policy frameworks and work programmes in place to ensure their predicted reductions are not prejudiced. The document does not even attempt to do this.

The document correctly identifies on page 10 improving integration and access for personal travel as a main issue. The emphasis is however on catering for the needs of existing public transport users with no reference to seeking the views of car users on transport issues. Their needs and expectations are likely to be different from other groups and as car users are primarily responsible for present road difficulties their views will be significant. A mechanistic supply led approach is likely, if the aim is to cater predominantly for existing users, most of whom are captive. The aim must be to ensure public transport is an attractive alternative for those who have a choice and are wealthy enough to exercise it. To permit this a greater understanding of the travel needs of the car-commuting public is required.

The emphasis on catering for the deprived and handicapped is commendable but a balance is required to ensure that meeting their full needs does not prejudice transport initiatives. For example the cost incurred in providing full wheelchair access at a new railway station might mean the relevant stakeholders cannot justify the investment and the vast majority of potential users are deprived of the facility. If urban congestion is to be effectively tackled the majority of travellers must be provided with a choice of high quality public transport. This should be related to charges imposed on car users which better reflect the complete costs of the journeys they make; in particular congestion charging where the relevant local authorities need strong Executive support.

A particular omission from the document is the lack of reference to use of taxis as a means of improving access to the public transport network. In countries such as the Netherlands the "trein-taxi" concept of shared taxis has been successful and consideration should be given in Scotland to greater use of taxis in this regard.

6. Projects for Implementation.
It is clear that either much more fundamental investigation and analysis is required or alternatively that the document fails to properly explain what has been done. The former view seems likely and on this basis the ten priorities for attention which have been identified appear to be a list of initiatives which will receive general support rather than necessarily representing the best use of resources and parliamentary time that will be available. This view is reinforced by the documents stated purpose in identifying the projects to "achieve consensus". There is a great danger in following this approach of least resistance that a lowest common denominator of initiatives will be implemented which at best is unlikely to obtain best use of limited resources and at worst will completely fail to obtain the benefits envisaged in the Executive's vision. The Executive should be more pro-active in identifying projects which best meet future needs with a willingness to argue their merit in the face of potential opposition. An example is congestion charging which cannot sensibly be avoided if aspirations are to be met.

Despite these comments the increased transport investment since devolution is acknowledged and it is recognised that many of the initiatives in the programme have already been facilitated, if not directly funded by the Executive. This is generally to be welcomed but it is clear that much more funding needs to be "levered in" if the aspirations are to be achieved. Whilst the Executive will provide some support it is clear that much will depend on local authorities and others such as the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA) to deliver. This is particularly relevant for the four main cities and long term mechanisms for necessary funding must be established in the near future along with the investigations referred to earlier to ensure targets are realistic.

In addition to funding, a greater determination by the Executive to stimulate and support Councils in progressing their initiatives would be welcomed. The institutional structure also deserves examination which a view to more easily facilitating desirable developments. Even if establishment of joint boards of authorities having common transport interests is ruled out, the potential benefits from strengthening the powers of existing regional transport bodies deserves consideration.

7. Public Transport.
The lack of a significant number of new initiatives is demonstrated by considering proposals for rail investment where, other than the Edinburgh Crossrail, no significant enhancement is now committed.

Every rail project now seems to have three hurdles to cross. Firstly funding, which is assured in a few cases such as Larkhall; secondly signalling design and commissioning resources, which Railtrack withdrew last December from Larkhall, Alloa, Aberdeen Crossrail and Gourock station relocation, saying that they must give priority to West Coast Main Line enhancement and implementing the TPWS system (although the impact of the latter will only be on short term duration); and thirdly what have been described as the "perverse incentives" of the performance regime, which currently is thought to be imposing delay on a relatively simple scheme to provide a station at Edinburgh Park.

The Executive must become more pro-active regarding rail investment and insist that staff resource difficulties are overcome, particularly in view of the new direct responsibilities for the Scotrail franchise. Simply providing funds to permit say Clackmannanshire or the Borders Council to prepare their re-opening schemes to the tender invitation stage is of little value if the above difficulties cannot be overcome and could be completely wasted with loss of productive use elsewhere.

In another context whilst the aspiration to provide rail links to both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports is to be supported, studying both links together risks the possibility that neither might proceed if there are insufficient funds for both. A prioritisation of all major projects and a realistic timetable for all of them, if possible in the next ten years is required if substance is to be given to the Executive's aspirations.

The recent increases in bus and rail travel referred to in the document are generally encouraging. Further investigations would be helpful to ensure this represents a beneficial impact on modal split and is not simply a reflection of increased travel overall, which can be contrary to planning aspirations and can be detrimental as referred to earlier. This is another area where a more holistic approach would be beneficial rather than simply assuming that the commercial imperative is necessarily of public benefit.

A particular aspect of public transport where significant benefits could be obtained at relatively low cost relates to fares' systems. Better and more flexible systems such as multi-operator through ticketing and off vehicle ticket purchase, such as apply in most other EU countries is required, despite institutional problems which make this more difficult in Scotland. Assistance in achieving these developments could be helped by giving more powers to the regional transport bodies as referred to earlier.

Encouraging use of public transport rather than of cars will require the needs of car users to be met, as referred to earlier often by increased expenditure by the Executive and others on aspects which car users value. In addition more action is required to encourage changes in personal behaviour and attitudes, by providing better information on the choices available and the wider benefits of public transport use.

8. Education.
To encourage public involvement there is scope for better education, in schools and elsewhere to increase awareness of laudable strategies and worthwhile alternatives. The school curriculum needs to particularly address these issues, bearing in mind the extensive timescale for the plans and that school children are a key element in achieving a significant change in behaviour. The Institute will comment further on this in relation to the National Debate on Education.

On the subject of education the needs of the transport industry must be catered for as well as ensuring a proper awareness amongst the general public. There is in particular a skills shortage in the road transport sector which has been a long-standing concern of the Institute. There are also skills shortages in the rail industry and government has a responsibility to ensure that all public transport and freight operators and suppliers, are encouraged to train their employees more.

The Institute has done a lot via our careers service, schools and university careers fairs, exhibitions and competitions to interest young people in the logistics and transport industry and to set out the opportunities for a wide range of interesting and rewarding careers. The need to ensure satisfactory education and training for all of those required to operate the future transport system should be an integral part of the Executive's thinking on the development of Scotland's transport services.

9. Specific Areas of Concern.
Most of the above comments are concerns regarding an apparent lack of robust analysis and coherence by the Executive in developing its aspirations for the next twenty years. There are a number of more specific initiatives where we feel particular comment is justified.

(1) The Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) initiative is a step in the right direction but further development is required to ensure a truly level playing field when assessing the relative merit of road and public transport development proposals, particularly with regard to the treatment of user benefits. If best use is to be made of the limited funds for transport investment in Scotland it is essential that an equitable basis is established before determining priorities for implementation.
(2) The Public Transport Fund has produced widespread benefits but these are often of a restricted nature in view of the limited funds available and rarely have a major impact. Major projects, which are required particularly for rail development give large benefits in return for substantial investment. The amounts of money allocated under the Fund are insufficient to do much more than pay lip service to the Executive's aspirations. Furthermore the document makes frequent reference to awards from the Fund but this generally does not result in additional finance as it is often a repackaging of existing borrowing consent frequently used for mundane expenditure on items such as bus shelters. We also understand that local authority resource constraints are inhibiting their ability to implement projects within the three-year timescale and that some information provided on the impact of schemes can be misleading. The Integrated Transport Fund also creates difficulty as this needs to be balanced between the strategic priorities of the Executive and of local authorities, which is often not the case. A further concern regarding funding is that the system provides for capital borrowing in respect of new initiatives but this is often not matched by any extra grant for revenue expenditure in respect of future maintenance. A review of the funding approach is suggested to ensure it is the best way to use scarce resources.
(3) "Traveline Scotland" also raises concerns regarding best use of resources. Whilst undoubtedly of benefit to some travellers the impact is limited as most public transport use is local. More specifically targeted local information by local authorities and operators is required.
(4) Concessionary Travel changes, to provide free off-peak local travel for men and women over sixty will clearly be appreciated by those who benefit. The cost in compensation payments to operators will however be high and it is essential to ensure that funds available for the wider support of public transport are not diminished as a result. The Executive must fund local authorities fully for the additional costs they will incur.
(5) The increased expenditure on Freight Facilities Grants in recent years is to be applauded including in particular extension of grant availability for use in connection with shipping terminals and the substantial grant provided for Rosyth in connection with the Zeebrugge service. It seems however that this has coincided with a loss of momentum in the last year for rail terminal investment, with only one significant award, the Powharnal-Auchinleck re-opening for open cast coal which might still be delayed by the Railtrack resource difficulties referred to earlier. The benefits to be derived from the freight terminal grants in stimulating industrial initiatives and removing lorries from roads must not be lost, even though it is essential to ensure that all developments which receive grants are viable in the longer term. We look forward to seeing the report on sustainable freight facilities research which we understand will be available shortly.
(6) We support the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry service, which must be successful. To ensure this the key issues of pricing, marketing and publicity in Scotland and abroad, reliability and flexibility, including the probable transporting of semi-trailers and containers to reduce costs, must all be addressed. The Executive needs to accept a role as part of the initiative to convince logistics operators and the public at large that it can be attractive to them. The positive features need to be emphasised, encouraging coach and tour operators to use the service. The travel and tourism industries must be actively encouraged to give full support.
(7) The A8000 link has special mention in the document but the suggestion that Edinburgh City Council has a responsibility for this essential link in the national road network is regrettable. It is accepted that FETA has a role but the Executive must accept responsibility for ensuring the upgrading of the A8000 is not prejudiced or delayed.
(8) Similarly the Executive must ensure that the M74 through Glasgow is completed as soon as possible now that the main parties have reached agreement.

10. Summary.
Our concerns are that whilst the aspirations are generally worthy of support the document is limited in assisting progress. There is inadequate regard for some of the main issues and an emphasis on public projection rather than substance. Some existing initiatives deserve re-examination with regard to their value when related to scarce personnel and financial resources. The content is a disappointment when related to earlier initiatives by the Executive which were often an improvement on proposals emerging for England. This document compares badly with the similar document prepared recently for transport development in England.

 

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