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"Scotland's National Transport Strategy" by Professor Tom Rye, Edinburgh Napier University Transport Studies Institute: Edinburgh meeting of 11 October 2017.

The strategic context set the National Transport Strategy's vision from which came its high-level objectives - economic growth, integration, inclusion, safety, environment, health - that translated into strategic objectives on journey-times, emissions, quality, accessibility and affordability. Performance was to be measured against indicators to monitor progress, but data has been available on only two - a fall from 11 to 7% of drivers' journeys delayed and a stable continuance at 30% in the share of all journeys made by sustainable modes (public transport, walking and cycling).

Transport minister Derek Mackay had insisted that the NTS was "not a spending plan", but it is useful nonetheless to see whether spending aligns with outcomes. Of the £1.8bn spent at national level, roads have accounted for 30%, support to rail for 43%, concessionary fares for 11% and others (ferries, air, bus) for 16%. Local authority spend at £991M divides into others at 24%, new roads at 32% (a surprisingly high figure), road maintenance at 27%, street lighting at 7% and public transport subsidy at 10%. On affordability, during 2002-12 bus fares rose 20%, rail 16%, but motoring costs stayed the same.

The bulk of national spend was on big new schemes - roads such as the Queensferry Crossing and Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, rail including EGIP and Borders, new low-emission buses and the £180M policy of free bus travel for seniors. The Scottish Household Survey shows that walking as a proportion of all journeys drops from 33% among the poorest fifth of society to 18% among the richest fifth. Driving rises from 25% to 52%, while bus falls from 16% to 3%. During 2003-13 car fatalities went down by over 60%, pedestrian ones by a less impressive 20% with walking also down as a proportion of all journeys.

Poor people walk or take the bus - and travel less. Transport spending has favoured big schemes for longer-distance movement by car and rail, and even concessionary fares are of of more benefit to the wealthy. So there is a greater need to facilitate local low-cost measures that would help the less well-off. Is improving journey-times still important, or should there be a greater emphasis on reliability? Actions on quality, accessibility and affordability have been piecemeal and small-scale except for the free bus travel for seniors and the spread of low-floor buses, up from 55% in 2006 to 84% in 2011. A comparison with Sweden shows that spend there was greater on bus relative to rail, and other countries have been able to build tram lines at less than half the cost in Edinburgh. Notwithstanding President Trump's views, reduced emissions will remain important in terms of the UK's international obligations, though maybe resilience to extreme weather events should be assuming greater significance : the need to tackle greenhouse gases requires to be tackled in all aspects of policy towards passenger and freight transport ranging from land use, demand and spend to promotion of electric vehicles and application of low emission zones.

The emerging priority surely should be to ensure the mobility of older and disabled people in an ageing society. The role of rail requires scrutiny since the 43% of spend is for only 2% of journeys : of course rail's contribution improves when account is taken of passenger-kilometres, but if we enable people to travel from further away, they will do it regardless of any other benefit. Likewise the place of cycling, whose current appeal is mainly to middle-aged men in employment : people in poorer areas tend to have less cycle-friendly infrastructure, so walk more.

The cost of making the trunk road network fully accessible has been estimated by Transport Scotland at only £24M, which represents extraordinarily good value compared with the huge cost of new roadbuilding such as dualling the A9. In any measure of social equity, the proposed abolition of Air Passenger Duty is a deeply regressive benefit to the better-off. In the new National Transport Strategy it would be helpful to have a much wider range of meaningful indicators against which its performance might be judged.

Report by John Yellowlees.


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