Transport will be a key sector in the challenge facing us to limit the effects of climate change.
The Covid19 lockdown saw more people taking up cycling and walking as reduced road traffic encouraged a more active lifestyle. The Scottish Government also announced financial support for bus services and moving more freight by rail. The Project PACE delivered its first EV charging hub in Lanarkshire.
Running parallel to these recent developments is the report in The Times this week by Benny Higgins who heads the Scottish Government’s Economic Recovery Group. Benny Higgins claimed that ‘green zealots’ were intent on wrecking Scotland’s economic recovery.
In response to the report by the Economic Recovery Group, the Scottish Government published the initial measures it would take – Economic Recovery Implementation Plan: Scottish Government response to the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery
These initial measures include:
- investing at least £50 million to support Youth Employment, including the Scottish Job Guarantee
- embedding Foundation and Graduate Apprenticeship places as part of our wider college and university provision, as well as extending Fair Start Scotland services
- introducing a Transition Training Fund to support individuals facing redundancy and unemployment in those sectors most exposed to a downturn providing opportunities to upskill and transition into employment
- maximising help for those facing redundancy through the Scottish Government’s PACE support programme
- making it easier for SMEs to compete for public sector contracts and supporting them to make greater use of digital technology
- exploring options to alleviate planning restraints, build capacity and deal more quickly with complex applications
- invite leaders from business and other organisations to work with senior civil servants to ensure key Scottish Government policies maximise opportunities for economic benefit
Commenting on the Scottish Government’s publication, Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns Mary Church said,
“The Scottish Government’s blueprint for economic recovery is a woefully inadequate response to the scale of the challenges we face from COVID-19 and the climate emergency.
“The so-called ‘green thread’ running through the response is little more than rhetoric with very little in the way of concrete new commitments that would truly centre a just transition to a zero carbon economy.
“It’s disappointing that the Government has not taken this opportunity to adopt the recent recommendations of the Just Transition Commission including a large scale fossil fuel decommissioning programme, public investment in renewable manufacturing facilities, buying fleets of green buses for local authorities and doubling energy efficiency budgets.
“We are alarmed by the intention to review permitted development rights and urge the Scottish Government not to follow the UK Government in ripping up the planning rulebook to rush through controversial applications against community wishes.”
There were parts of the report that were welcomed by FoE on embedding an equalities and human rights approach across economic recovery policy development.
It has been evident over lockdown that human behaviour is adaptable and people did take to more cycling and walking. The roads were safer with less traffic and people working from home or furloughed had more time to be active.
In 2019 168 people were killed on Scotland’s roads – that was an increase of 7 from 2018. 2001 people were seriously injured. Many of these will be life changing injuries.
There was an increase in the number of cyclists killed, 8, and pedestrians killed, 46. Download: key reported road casualties scotland 2019 web tables
The problem is not with people, who can and do change, the issue is with the safety of our roads and the opportunities to be more active with less time spent commuting for work. Working from home has freed up time to be used in an individual’s own way.
The use of private cars has given many people the chance to explore highways and byways they would never have done before. But it has also encouraged the spread of a workforce – living further away from their place of employment. Costly rail fares and infrequent (if at all) bus services, mean that private car convenience has become the norm. Even with schemes like car sharing most of these car journeys will involve only one occupant. And of course, the parents who do the ‘school run’, for whatever reasons – because they are dropping their kids off on their way to work, or the school is some distance from where they live, or indeed it is quite close and they feel it is just easier to pop the kids in the car.
You can track Scotland’s Covid19 lockdown and phased emergence through the Transport statistics.
For the period 14 – 19 April
- Concessionary bus journeys down by 90%
- Rail journeys down by 95%
- Ferry journeys down by 95%
- Plane journeys down by 90%
- Car journeys down by 75%
- Cycling journeys up by 50%
For the period 20 – 26 April:
- Concessionary bus journeys down by 85%
- Rail journeys down by 95%
- Ferry journeys down by 95%
- Plane journeys down by 90%
- Car journeys down by 70%
- Cycling journeys up by 120%
For the period 18 – 24 May
- Concessionary bus journeys up by 10%
- Rail journeys down by 55%
- Ferry journeys up by 30%
- Plane journeys down by 5%
- Car journeys up by 45%
- Cycling journeys up by 35%
- Walking journeys up by 10%
For the period 22 – 28 June:
- Walking journeys down by 40%
- Cycling journeys up by 25%
- Concessionary bus journeys down by 80%
- Rail journeys down by 90%
- Ferry journeys down by 90%
- Air journeys down by 85%
- Car journeys down by 35%
For the period 27 July – 2 August:
- Walking journeys down by 35%
- Cycling journeys up by 5%
- Concessionary bus journeys down by 65%
- Rail journeys down by 75%
- Ferry journeys down by 50%
- Air journeys down by 70%
- Car journeys down by 10%
At the start of lockdown where people could only exercise close to home and public transport was limited to essential workers, those quieter roads encouraged cycling.
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, in the Scottish Government said on 6th of August 2020:
“Travel is now at an average of 2.4 trips per person per day, which is the highest recorded average trip rate since lockdown. This is still lower than the typical average of 2.7 trips per person per day before COVID-19.”
He went on to encourage parents to choose not to take the car as the schools are due to reopen this week.
He said: “Please continue to work from home if you can. Walk, wheel or cycle wherever possible.
“If you do need to use public transport, please plan ahead and try to avoid peak times. Let’s leave space on public transport for those that need it most – practice good hand hygiene and remember that face coverings remain mandatory on public transport in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
As hospitality, tourism and other workplaces opened up again it is not possible for many to continue to work from home.
The Scottish Government invested £30million to support local authorities set up Spaces for People, temporary infrastructures to support more active means of travelling. Not everyone is mobile enough to cycle or to walk and so this was also to support initiatives for those less physically able and who require the use of mobility aids to get around safely.
Why temporary infrastructures?
In the Scottish Government’s response to the Economic Recovery Group this is what it had to say on Transport:
“Scotland’s transport sector is a key enabler of the Scottish economy. The measures taken in response to the pandemic has had a significant impact upon the entire sector.
“The Transport Transition Plan sets out the actions taken by Transport Scotland to support Scotland’s transport system during the crisis. The sectoral support provided by the Scottish Government has included £46.7 million to support bus operators to increase services, £10 million to support the rapid deployment of bus priority infrastructure by local authorities, and an £8.8 million Bus Emissions Abatement Retrofit scheme. Additionally we have provided £9 million of emergency funding for Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Trams and a £30 million Spaces for People initiative, setting up temporary walking and cycling routes to enable social distancing during the crisis.
“Moreover, the sector’s success is critical for our recovery, and the National Transport Strategy – published in February 2020 – sets out our ambitious vision for Scotland’s transport system for the next 20 years.
“The vision is underpinned by four priorities:
- reduce inequality
- take climate action
- help deliver inclusive economic growth
- improve our health and wellbeing
“Investment in transport infrastructure (including maintenance of existing assets) to support economic recovery is important. Such projects are labour intensive and yield large ripple effects throughout the economy boosting growth and employment.”
Scotland aims to be net zero by 2045. The Just Transmission Commission published, 30th of July 2020, a Report prepared by the Just Transition Commission, providing advice to the Scottish Government on ensuring a just green recovery.
This update on their earlier report took into account the effect the pandemic Covid19 was having on the progress towards a transition to net zero.
“we must be careful not to lose sight of the urgent need to tackle the climate challenge. The most recent statistics show Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2018, a trend that desperately needs reversing and at pace. Now is the time for renewed commitment to reset our pathway to net-zero, while building a fairer and more resilient economy.”
On Transport the report states:
“transport is now the highest emitting sector in Scotland, responsible for roughly 36% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Emissions are largely unchanged on 1990 levels. A large proportion of this is due to personal car use. Measures that help us shift to more active and sustainable modes of transport (such as low or zero emission buses) will be necessary if we are to reduce emissions and reach net-zero by 2045.”
The report recommends support for bus use including electrification. This would also include procuring zero-emission electric buses for COP26. Doing this using Scottish manufacturers would promote home based industry. Afterwards it is suggested these buses could be leased to operators and local authorities, benefiting all of the country. In parallel to this an enhanced plan would need to be developed to accelerate electric charging infrastructure and a bus scrappage scheme.
These ideas by the Just Transition Commission would stimulate the economy in Scotland by encouraging research, development and manufacturing. In turn the increase in buses would reduce emissions and lead to more bus use.
There are also knock on savings which this article has not delved into of savings to the National Health Service of a fitter more active population and of a greater feeling of individual wellbeing .
The dreadful consequences of the Covid19 pandemic and its death toll is still playing out. Will there be a second wave even more devastating than the first one? To try and salvage some positives out of this it is possible to put Scotland on a different journey. One where our roads are less clogged up by private cars, heavy goods are increasingly transported by rail and people can safely take up more active means of travel.
“Climate change, the grand challenge of this generation, has not gone away… the impact of COVID-19 has not been felt equally across society, and that marginalised groups have been hit the hardest. Now more than ever it is vital we consider the equity aspects of our transition to net-zero.” Professor Jim Skea
Chair Just Transition Commission
This is not the time for returning to old ways and tinkering with how it has always been done. It is a time for creative thinking by policy makers to set Scotland on its route to net zero by 2045.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame