Alastair Dalton: Experts reveal Scotland’s transport heaven – and hell

The unique Barra beach landing strip was chosen as the best thing about Scottish transport. Picture: Abigail Treffry
The unique Barra beach landing strip was chosen as the best thing about Scottish transport. Picture: Abigail Treffry
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Everyone has a bee in their bonnet about transport, and that’s what makes it so perennially interesting to write about.

However, what are the pet loves and hates of those who live and breathe transport – the operators, consultants, academics and campaigners? Members of the Scottish Transport Studies Group think tank gathered in a pub in Edinburgh last month to mull over their delights and bugbears.

But this was no idle bar-room chat by some of the “best-informed people about Scottish transport”, as they described themselves.

The purpose of the exercise was to see what needs fixing most, but also how to build on the country’s biggest transport successes.

That will follow, but here’s what they came up with – and many passengers and drivers are likely to wholeheartedly agree.

Buses – our most popular form of public transport – racked up the most negative entries in the group’s poll.

Members singled out journey times – “often slower than walking and usually cycling in urban areas”, “old and decaying” buses, and passengers being “delayed and humiliated” by being forced to pay the exact fare – especially when there is little notice of what it is.

READ MORE: Revealed: the cost of pothole claims to Scottish councils

The lack of easy ways to buy tickets for buses, trams and trains elicited numerous gripes, such as “cumbersome” and “slow” ticket machines at trams stops in Edinburgh.

But buses also featured on the positives list – for the ability to pay fares using mobile phones in some places, flat fares in places like Edinburgh, and Lothian Buses’ information app. The ability to pay for parking using a mobile phone was also praised.

Back among the negatives was the high cost of rail journeys, especially between Edinburgh and Glasgow, which was reckoned to be “inconsistent with policy goals”; in other words, too steep to attract some drivers out of their cars.

ScotRail is currently charging off-peak prices at rush hours on a slower route between the cities because of a shortage of carriages on the main line, which is something the group might well want them to make permanent.

However, the experts’ biggest concerns were reserved for the roads. While the clutter of unnecessary signs and “poorly managed” parking was lower down the list, the worst two aspects of Scottish transport were named as pedestrian deaths and serious injuries, and poor road maintenance.

READ MORE: Barra named as one of the world’s most scenic airport landings

The casualty toll, albeit at a record low of 32 fatalities and 396 serious injuries, was judged to be “not consistent with a civilised society”.

As for potholes, this year’s winter could well worsen conditions, which had stabilised after years of deterioration – a fact often buried or omitted in media coverage of council spending cuts. But the STSG was equally keen to highlight the best in Scottish transport. Buchanan Street in Glasgow, the premier traffic-free shopping area in the city centre, was praised as a “social and economic magnet”.

However, the country’s natural beauty dominated the poll, such as the “superb views” from trains on the West Highland Line to Oban and Mallaig.

Other slots went to CalMac’s Hopscotch ticket for touring the islands by ferry, and the country having many of the best roads in the world to drive and cycle. But out on top was Loganair’s unique Barra beach landing strip – showing that simple practicality can become a winning travel experience.