How transport in Strathclyde can be green, affordable and smart – Dr Martin Bartos

Public transport is facing a period of challenge and change. Addressing the climate emergency, the Covid public health emergency and supporting economic recovery are just three of many pressing issues facing the transport sector.

The public transport network in the West of Scotland must be transformed (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA)

But transformative change for the better is achievable and must be delivered.

Last year, the vice-chairs of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) and I set out to produce a public paper to stimulate and lead debate on how to transform the public transport network in the West of Scotland. This week, we have published that report.

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Targeting ten features of a healthy public transport network (available, accessible, affordable, ecologically and economically sustainable, integrated, reliable, efficient, safe and enjoyable), we outline an approach – a treatment plan – based on five parallel strategic visions to transform public transport challenges in our own region. Our medicine may not suit every taste but doing nothing is not an option.

To transform public transport in the region we believe requires delivery of ‘One Network’, a ‘Smart Network’, a ‘Green Network’, an ‘Affordable Network’, and a ‘Network for the future’.

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Public transport coordination is vital and our One Network envisages integrated service arrangements – ultimately a single multi-modal network delivered to a transport authority-defined plan and service standards. As part of this we propose a unified Strathclyde Buses service brand operating consistently for the public just as with London or Lothian Buses.

An integrated public network alone is not enough. Transformative change, and passenger expectations, require it to be smart and dynamic.

Our Smart Network envisages applying digital technology to transform every step of the journey. We want a Smart Travel Pass – an app or card for every citizen – integrating with a public transport digital platform to provide journey options and make the network work for passengers.

We anticipate a future with smart passenger-responsive journeys where your personal ‘journey plan’ doesn’t just tell you when your bus is coming, it lets the bus driver know if you’ll need some help and updates you how long your trip will take.

Better demand and travel data should support smarter network planning and real-time traffic management. Live travel information could adjust traffic lights, speeding up public transport and shared transport carrying the most people.

The efficiency gains of a Smart Network as well as being valuable to passengers will be essential to the ecological and economic sustainability of the network we envisage.

Delivering a Green Network is critical to a move to public transport with net-zero carbon emissions in Strathclyde. Tackling sustainable travel systematically and effectively requires us to properly understand transport emissions and to provide attractive net-zero alternatives.

This requires a revolution in information for policy makers and the public to grasp the reality of transport carbon costs. We recommend developing a regional Transport Emissions Map to provide a strategic overview, prioritising effective interventions to move to net zero.

We suggest providing our transport users with a personal carbon emissions statement to help inform their personal choices and take action to reduce the impact of their transport choices on the environment.

Modal shift is crucial for sustainability and delivering this requires public transport to out-compete private transport on value and cost. We believe an Affordable Network is the only one which can deliver the social, environmental and economic changes we need to meet our regional aspirations and national targets.

Delivering One Network would allow the development of a ‘fair-fare’ structure to fit the needs of the region, reducing journey costs for the travelling public at a price which is affordable to the public purse and aligns with policy goals. Delivering a Smart Network would allow us to have smart payment, pricing and measures such as fare capping or pre-arranged ‘travel-to-work’ journey tariffs.

Finally, we believe we should build a Network for the future – one capable, by design and clear intent, of embracing emerging technology.

We can do this within our economic and carbon budget by using technology – optimising what we have, in tandem with embracing the opportunities emerging technology provides.

We suggest establishing Strathclyde as a region supporting innovation and pilot schemes so passengers in the west of Scotland once more get a front seat to transport innovations.

We believe this approach should be embedded by the creation of a Future Transport Technology Advisory Board with a remit to keep a watching brief on transport technology development and to stimulate ideas and projects in the region.

Ultimately, taking the necessary steps to progress each of these visions requires a transport authority empowered, resourced and ambitious enough to deliver change for the people of the region.

Such a body should be built on the foundation of what already exists and we believe that SPT can and should evolve into that body: Transport for Strathclyde. To create this, we hope to work with others on the development and promotion of a Transport for Strathclyde (Scotland) Act to empower Transport for Strathclyde to specify and direct changes to the public transport network in the region.

What we have produced is a starting point for a discussion on the basis of a new deal: a Social Contract for Public Transport, between the public, government and transport operators in Strathclyde. The next steps are a shared responsibility between us all.

Together we need to realise a regional public transport network which guarantees access to work, health, education and recreation – without breaking the bank or planet – we need to build a dynamic, integrated and efficient 21st century public transport system.

Councillor Dr Martin Bartos is the chair of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT)

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