On Thursday 24th September a number of senior decision makers and key stakeholders in the development and growth of Scotland will come together for our Scotland Development Conference. Ahead of the event we’ve been catching up with one of the event’s speakers – Fiona Brown, Head of Strategic Transport Planning at Transport Scotland...

Q. Transport Scotland is the national transport agency for Scotland which delivers the Government’s vision for transport – could you give us a high-level overview of the plans and long-term strategy you’re working to implement?

We are planning our future investment in line with the National Transport Strategy, through the second Strategic Transport Projects Review – which will seek to embed the vision and outcomes of the NTS.  STPR2 will set the direction of the Government’s transport investment plan for the next 20 years.  STPR2 will also have to reflect and align with the forthcoming Climate Change Plan Update, Infrastructure Investment Plan and National Planning Framework 4.

Q. Travel demand has been impacted massively due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the future is uncertain – how do you plan and make decisions when there is so much uncertainty?

The pace and scale of collapse in economic and social activity as a result of managing the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented and has had a significant impact on travel demand.  As travel is a derived demand, we know the ongoing response to the pandemic will influence travel demand now and we are monitoring that, also undertaking research and surveys.  But what is unknown is the trajectory – how long will that continue and will it influence people for good or will we return to pre-Covid behaviours.  Nonetheless, our Government vision in relation to transport has not changed and the NTS, published in February, still stands.

We intend now to take a phased approach to STPR2, with Phase 1 reporting along the original planned timescales and focusing on recommendations which ‘lock in’, in transport terms, the positive benefits and travel behaviours of individuals and provide a step change in investment which supports the priorities and outcomes of the National Transport Strategy. Phase 2, which will complete the review, will report later in 2021.

In the preparation of evidence to support decision making on policy and investment, it is important to imbed a scenario planning approach. This was used in the development of the NTS and is something we want to ensure it is at the heart of decision making in Transport Scotland.  By understanding the drivers of uncertainty, we can consider a range of possible futures and consider our planned investments or policies against these.   

Q. How are you supporting public transport whilst demand is low and physical distancing applies?

The Scottish Government provides direct annual funding of around £53 million to support all bus services, and over £200 million to provide free bus travel for older and disabled people.  We also fund local authorities through general revenue grant to provide additional targeted support for services to meet local needs. In 2018-19, £57 million was provided in this way.

During the pandemic, we are maintaining concessionary travel reimbursement and Bus Service Operator Grant payments at levels budgeted before COVID -19. We are providing additional financial support for bus services in Scotland for a twenty week period (22 June-8 November) through the COVID Support Grant – Restart. This funding of up to £109.7m supports bus operators to maintain services at around 100% of pre-COVID levels. It fills the gap between additional costs of operating services due to COVID -19 and severely reduced ticket income due to reduced demand and capacity constraints.

The COVID -19 situation is evolving. We will continue to review demand for bus services and what support might be needed including whether to extend funding after 8 November.  Local authorities and regional transport partnerships have powers to secure additional bus services to meet local transport needs and funding for this is included in the local authority general revenue grant.

On Rail, we have put in place further Emergency Measures Agreements, which again will temporarily vary the ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper Franchises, from September to January 2021.  During this time the train operators will receive payments to cover operating costs, as necessary because of reduced revenues. Under the new EMAs the payment of any management fees to Abellio ScotRail or Serco Caledonian Sleeper will depend entirely upon achieving satisfactory performance metrics. This will ensure rail services continue and also provide stability for employees, passengers and suppliers at a time of unprecedented uncertainty. 

Up to £9 million Scottish Government support for light rail was announced in July for Edinburgh Tram and Glasgow Subway.

Q. Coronavirus has also seen an increase in walking and cycling – what measures has the Government put in place to maximise this modal shift which is in line with the National Transport Strategy?

The Programme for Government announcement of over £500 million for the next 5 years assures our record annual investment in active travel.  Our budget for 2020-21 increased the active travel budget to £100.5 million, which equates to over £18 per head of population.  From the total budget in 2020-21, £23.9 million went direct to local authorities through the Cycling Walking and Safer Routes grant. This was an uplift of £15 million from 2019-20.

We have re-purposed almost £39 million of active travel funding for the Spaces for People; this is enabling local authorities to put in place the temporary measures such as pop-up cycle lanes and widening walkways that are needed to allow people to physically distance during transition out of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Scotland Cycle Repair Scheme launched on 3 August, offering £50 towards repairs. A total of 30,000 repairs are available on the scheme, totalling £1.5 million of SG investment. The scheme is aimed at those who would like to cycle more but need financial support to bring their bike to a safe condition for regular use.  Uptake has been positive, with over 300 retailers in 31 of 32 local authorities taking part and the scheme is reaching its target audience with 25% of users from the two most deprived quintiles and a good mix of large commercial businesses, not for profits and sole traders.

Q. In our bid to tackle the climate crisis EV’s are starting to be more widely used as adoption increases. However cost is a barrier for those wishing to purchase an EV, what are you doing about that?

As outlined in the Programme for Government, the Government’s Low Carbon Transport Loan is now being expanded to help people who may otherwise be put off by the high purchase price of electric vehicles.  Delivered through Energy Saving Trust, it will enable people and businesses to benefit from cheaper running costs compared with petrol and diesel vehicles whilst supporting our world leading net-zero target and air quality objectives.  To date, over £85 million has been provided to help people make the switch to ultra-low emission and electric vehicles. The extension will now enable an individual or business to obtain a loan of up to £20,000, interest free, over five years.

You can hear more from Fiona and Transport Scotland at the Scotland Development Conference. Register here: https://www.built-environment-networking.com/event/scotland-development-conference-2020/