Published on 4 December 2019, this is part of a series of blog posts from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre to mark 20 years since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, and covers 20 years of devolved transport policy. These are selected extracts from the complete blog which can be found here.
Introducing a debate on the Transport (Scotland) Bill in September 2000, Sarah Boyack MSP, then Minister for Transport and Environment, highlighted that there was a...
...growing recognition over the past few years that congestion and a lack of genuine transport choices are harming our economy, our environment, our health and our way of life, that the deregulation policies of the previous Conservative Government resulted in fragmentation, which cost us dear, and that we need to restore a balance to our transport policies in the interest of all our communities.
Almost 20 year later, the same issues were raised during a similar debate on the most recent Transport (Scotland) Bill. Why has so little progress been made in tackling our key transport challenges? This blog looks at some of the factors underlying changes in how we travel, including transport policy, the cost of personal transport and transport investment.
The Scottish Government's transport policy has been remarkably consistent throughout the life of the Scottish Parliament. The consultation draft of the new National Transport Strategy, published in July 2019, includes [this] vision:
We will have a sustainable, inclusive and accessible transport system, helping to deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for communities, businesses and visitors.
So how has travel in Scotland changed since 1999? Key changes include:
The environmental impact of transport has grown in significance: Transport emissions stopped falling in 2013 and have increased annually since then.
Relative to the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation (the measure used to calculate increases in rail fares that are regulated by the UK and Scottish Governments):
The growth in rail travel: While also affected by fares rising above RPI and no significant reduction in journey times, rail use has grown considerably across Scotland and the UK since 1999. Research into why this has occurred, points to three key non-transport related drivers of this growth:
The possible impact of significant Scottish Government investment in rail services on increased patronage is outlined below.
Scottish Government investment priorities are clear, since 2007-08:
Since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, more people have chosen to drive more often - partly at the expense of trips previously made on foot or by bus. This is generally counter to the thrust of Scottish transport policy, which aims to encourage people to switch from the car to walking, cycling or public transport - particularly for shorter trips, bringing environmental, health and economic benefits.
However, there appears to be a clear correlation between the Scottish Government investing significant sums in trunk road and rail infrastructure and growth in their use and the investment of far smaller sums in buses, walking and cycling and their decline or stagnation. In effect, while policy is important - you get the outcomes that you pay for.
This poses a major challenge for the next 20 years, during which the Scottish Government has committed to the almost complete decarbonisation of transport in Scotland. While the draft National Transport Strategy focuses policy on sustainable and active travel, the Scottish Government has confirmed the investment of £6bn in the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness and the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen - the two most expensive transport projects ever undertaken in Scotland. Significant investment in major road projects has been found to generate "induced demand", and this investment may simply create additional trips by car, as appears to have happened with the Queensferry Crossing. It also generates significant emissions during construction and locks in higher emission travel choices for years to come. More widely, Transport Scotland has predicted a 27% increase in the distance driven by car between 2015 and 2035.
It could be argued that increasing uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles will mean that increasing vehicle mileage is not a major concern. However, the growth in the distance driven has negated the positive impact of improvements in fuel efficiency and emissions from newer vehicles since 1999. Given that ultra-low emissions vehicles made up just 2.2% of all new vehicle registrations during 2018, and that the average lifespan of a car in the UK is 13.9 years - a step change in the environmental performance of the Scottish vehicle fleet would seem to be many years off.
This means that significant investment in infrastructure and other measures proven to encourage people to switch from driving to walking, cycling and public transport, plus measures to manage demand for car use, will be vital in tackling transport related greenhouse gas emissions in the short to medium term.