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"How does the Scottish transport system serve tourists?" By David Warnock: Perth Meeting of 27 March 2012

David Warnockd

David Warnock

© John Yellowlees, 2012

The Visit Scotland website advises on travelling around Scotland that public transport is efficient in the Central Belt, more scarce elsewhere, but with careful planning everywhere is accessible, with wonderful scenic drives : clearly the author has never met a timber truck or a flock of sheep! We must put ourselves in the shoes of the first-time visitor who needs time to absorb information.

The Motorway network is mostly Central Belt, not on main tourist routes but signage policy is everywhere important - it seems all-encompassing on trunk roads, but on the A roads the policy appears to differ between Councils. It really is the trunk road network that is key to tourism, with for example the A9, A82, A85 and A93 in the Highlands, the A1, A68, A73, A77 in the south particularly important: with climate change will they be hit by flash flooding?

Layby provision could be improved with advance signing and views that are uncluttered by fencing, and signposted road trails enhance interest. B roads can be in a poor state of repair following recent winters, and unclassified roads are a challenge for those accustomed to say the M25. On holidays in the far north-west, the preponderance of Continental registrations had been impressive.

Coach drivers need to take extra time for visitors unfamiliar with the coinage or geography. Heritage buses were exemplified by the Trossachs Trundler, the vehicle for which in the end unfortunately collapsed but had made a great impact : however the annual funding made advance marketing difficult, and as just one bus it had a long day's circuit. Rickshaws in city centres have potential for development.

Our rail network includes some of the great scenic journeys, but like Scottish football they never quite "get the ball over the line". People come for the scenery, but we cover it with trees! The Scottish rail network scores consistently well for customer service, and ScotRail is good at getting information out quickly during disruption. Information has to be good also for international visitors to say the Edinburgh Festival.

The special trains season is approaching, and The Jacobite is a goldmine for Mallaig : do local businesses need advance notice of visits by specials elsewhere? There are fewer slots with the growth of other traffic, so opportunities must be protected. The Highland Main Line should be marketed for its out-of-season attractiveness : the new Borders line will have potential and there is scope for marketing the lines in the south-west.

The West Coast Main Line always seems like a poor relation to East Coast, with its scenic stretch through Berwick. Rail links to Europe have to cope with cheap flights, but many people at a recent conference on the Continent had travelled from Britain by train. David himself had travelled by Sleeper and Eurostar all the way from Dunblane to Novosibirsk!

Since 2008 the introduction of Road Equivalent Traffic has boosted journeys to the Western Isles by a third, but it has also increased pressure on peak services and prompted a need for infrastructure improvements. Wildlife tourism has rapidly grown, and there could be a market for expansion of the Hebridean Princess akin with the Royal Scotsman. Waterbuses could be useful on the Clyde, and the single vessel on Loch Lomond needs to be complimented so as to build up a network. The Waverley could form the backbone to a network of heritage travel.

Direct flights lose more Scots going out : Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports have undergone expansion, but incredibly both lack rail links. The scenario for air travel is unclear due to rising fuel prices and carbon impacts, which could be good for staycationers.

Our national cycle network is under-publicised, cycle-hire has developed slowly and recent accidents in Edinburgh have shown that we are not entirely cycle-friendly. The West Highland Way has demonstrated the potential of walking, while the Borders are developing horse tourism. Public transport familiarisation events could be useful, for example in University freshers' weeks. The Commonwealth Games should be a tremendous catalyst for use of public transport, but how do we prevent people from staying away to avoid them?

The Scottish Region thanks Perth & Kinross Council for accommodating the event.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.


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