BUT we must change perceptions of travel says Russell Imrie.
Sestran aims to build a sustainable transportation system for south-east Scotland, based on the use of public transport as the mode of choice for most journeys, a reduction in single-passenger car journeys and encouraging alternative transport options like cycling and walking for shorter journeys.
Our goal is to establish a transportation system to meet the needs of the region in the 21st century, while addressing the growing problems of traffic congestion and pollution that could have far reaching effects on the economy and the environment as well as our health and quality of life.
To achieve this we need to change public attitudes towards transportation at a fundamental level. This is no small task. The Scottish Government’s draft carbon reduction strategy shows that transport is the only area in which emissions have actually increased in Scotland since 1990.
The Scottish Government is proposing a comprehensive raft of measures to meet the challenge, ranging from creating a mature market for low-carbon cars, developing a comprehensive charging network for electric vehicles and encouraging cycling and walking – with the goal of at least 10 per cent of all journeys being made by bicycle by 2020 – to a wide range of infrastructural developments encouraging more efficient transport, cleaner fuels and best practice in moving freight onto sustainable modes.
SEStran is already working towards these goals, through a range of projects which seek to establish sustainable transportation as the smart option.
Our flagship project, bustrackSEStran; accessible through a dedicated website and free downloadable Smartphone app, is bringing live bus time information to people throughout south-east Scotland for the first time. Over 350 Stagecoach and First Bus East vehicles operating on key routes have been included on the system so far.
Passengers have access to live information about their bus, putting them back in control of their journey, thanks to an investment of over £5 million, including £1.3m of EU funding and £2m from the Bus Investment Fund (BIF) which has enabled us to fit out an increased number of vehicles and install information screens providing live bus time information in selected public places across the region.
We also support one-ticket; a single ticket offering unlimited travel by bus, train or both on over 30 operators in Edinburgh and in east central Scotland. Travellers have the convenience of hopping on and off buses and trains as they please, with a single ticket and no more fumbling for loose change – just show your pass to the driver.
Projects like bustrackerSEStran and One Ticket are essential if we are to achieve our goal of changing people’s transport behaviour. Sustainable options have to make sense, be easy to use, cost effective and efficient.
Smaller initiatives can also make also a big difference.
The SEStran Thistle Assistance Card is designed to help anyone who has difficulty in using public transport. The credit-card sized card comes with a selection of peel off stickers, which indicate different types of disabilities, or the type of help a passenger may need. These are then attached to the card, which can be presented discretely to the bus driver when boarding the vehicle.
Meanwhile through TripshareSEStran – a free, web-based car-sharing scheme – we are linking up car drivers or passengers who are making similar journeys and wish to share the costs. If everyone shared a regular journey just once a week that could take up to 25 per cent of the cars off the roads. TripshareSEStran can also match taxi, cycling or walking journeys and to date more than 8,000 people are regularly sharing journeys throughout the region.
SEStran is constantly seeking new ways to advance the cause of sustainable transport. Nationally this will require the commitment of substantial resources, but much can be achieved through intelligent use of existing resources, and – not least – by capitalising on the growing public awareness of the need for change.
The surge in popularity of cycling, increasing public consciousness of the need for exercise and public concern over pollution mean that we are working with an informed public who are partners, rather than simply consumers of transportation services. If we give them the tools, they will embrace a sustainable future.
• Russell Imrie is chair of SEStran www.sestran.gov.uk