The Herald Friday 22 January 2016
OFFICIAL publicity and rail improvements aimed at encouraging motorists to leave their cars behind are 'going nowhere' after the number of people using public transport in Scotland over the past decade actually fell, according to campaigners.
New figures have revealed a 6% decline in those numbers since 2006 while road traffic has risen by 2% in that period, despite a government transport policy aimed at getting passengers onto trains and buses.
The failure to get people to engage with greener modes of transport was blamed for damaging the environment by Friends of the Earth Scotland, while sustainable transport group Transform Scotland lamented a "decade wasted".
Transport Minister Derek Mackay, meanwhile, yesterday announced that a full review of Scotland's national transport strategy should take place during the next Scottish Parliament.
He made the comments as he launched a "refresh" of the 2006 national transport strategy, which took stock of the Scottish Government's performance so far.
The Government has spent £15 billion on transport since 2007, with investment in key infrastructure such as the new Forth crossing and the railways.
Rail passengers have increased by 29%, but a drop in the number of bus journeys means that overall passenger numbers on public transport were down.
Cycle traffic has increased by 30%, but only accounts for 3% of journeys, while 68% of commuting is by car - 1% more than ten years ago.
The number of people walking to work has fallen by 1% to 13%, despite high-profile efforts to get people to be more active.
Friends of the Earth Scotland Director Dr Richard Dixon said that the figures were disappointing and called for a radical change in direction.
He said: "These disappointing figures show that the Scottish Government is idling on the transport changes the country needs. Our current transport policies are killing people and trashing the climate.
"There are more cars on the road, more miles being driven and a higher proportion of journeys to work being made by car. Put simply, we're going in the wrong direction.
"The majority of our air pollution is coming from traffic, leading to the public health crisis whereby 2000 lives are lost each year. A quarter of all our climate emissions is coming from our transport system, a figure that has remained largely unchanged in the last decade while other sectors have reduced emissions."
Colin Howden, Director of Transform Scotland and a member of the stakeholder group which advised on the new strategy, criticised Ministers for prioritising road-building over investment in public transport networks.
He said, "It is tragic that there has been absolutely no progress over the past decade in moving people from cars on to public transport."
"Whether one wants to tackle congestion, improve connectivity, or cut emissions, the evidence in this new strategy highlights a wasted decade in improving Scotland's transport."
"A further review of transport strategy after May's elections would serve little purpose. What is instead required is a fundamental review of the Scottish Government's spending priorities."
A Scottish Government spokesman said that real enhancements had been made to public transport provision across Scotland, borne out in the overall positive outlook presented by the National Transport Strategy refresh.
He added: "Through challenging economic times we have continued to invest heavily in infrastructure and real progress has been made in terms of our key strategic outcomes of improved journey times and connectivity, reduced emissions and improved quality, accessibility and affordability of public transport."