Points to ponder for COP-26 delegates as they sample Scotland's transport network - John Yellowlees

As delegates prepare to assemble at COP26 in Glasgow this November, it is to be hoped that at least a few of them find the time to investigate the transport priorities of the country that they are visiting. They may encounter a few interesting talking-points.

John Yellowlees, Scottish Chair, CILT

Of course, a lot of what they will see is good, with for example passenger security protected by extensive networks of online CCTV with Help Points. As tourists, they will be encouraged to enjoy interaction with locals by using public transport rather than being confined to bespoke operations that are for visitors alone. All across Scotland, they will find evidence of how our highway network has caught up with the quality of road infrastructure elsewhere, with provision of estuarial crossings from the Forth and Tay in the 1960s and many Highland crossings in the 1980s and 1990s. However they may be surprised to note that in Climate Emergency we are persisting with roadbuilding, including City Deal projects such as the new Clyde bridge replacing the Yoker ferry, and dualling the A9 and A96 while the parallel railways remain largely single-track and with little freight because the loops are of insufficient length to accommodate modern-sized trains. And if they spot either of the canals that traverse our country, they will find a complete dearth of freight vessels.

They may observe gaps on some shop shelves and consider how sustainable an economy can be with major imbalances between the supply of HGV drivers and the unmet demands from transport sector which has relied on drivers from other European countries for many years.

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Eyebrows may be raised when they find that many of the flights at Scotland's main airports are to and from London, a journey that should be within rail's grasp, yet the Government has talked of varying air passenger duty so as to encourage flying. Visiting ports, they may be surprised at the absence of direct links with the Continent including Scandinavia. If they pick up on the debate about a fixed link with Northern Ireland, they may be struck by the manner in which such a strategic choice has until now been regarded as a political shuttlecock.

When the delegates sample our urban transport, they may notice the limited use of smartcards, with several operators having their own card rather than a single inter-available one. However, they will see most customers prefer to pay contactless using their mobile phone or bankcard. Those from cities in say North America and Australia may be surprised to find that we still charge for city-centre transport at all, regarding free transport as the preserve of Marxists when at home they may have become used to it as the norm.

Except in Edinburgh, they will search in vain for the light rail networks that are the norm elsewhere, and in Glasgow they may be puzzled to learn that since becoming the world's third-oldest in 1896 the Subway has never grown. What will they make of the discoveries that we had tolls on estuarial crossings but abolished them, and that we flirted with congestion-charging, only to allow it to be thrown out in a flawed referendum?

They will see new developments, and may wonder what contributions from developers make towards the running costs of public transport. It may come as a surprise to learn that most of the funding that our planning system seeks from developers is towards upgrading road infrastructure.

Electric cars will be visible, but not in the numbers perhaps found back home, and they may wonder that the Scottish Government prefers promoting a public network of charging-points rather than working with networks of filling stations and supermarkets to develop their networks. If they spot an electric van, they may be interested to know that operators sometimes have to wait years until the electricity provider builds a substation to power their depot.

Any who venture to our more rural parts may wonder why Road Equivalent Tariff was allowed to promote islanders taking their cars with them to the cities. And they may encounter the filth left behind by tourists in campervans for whom initiatives like the North Coast 500 have provided no mechanism on funding facilities for overnight stays.

Of course they may find roads busy but public transport still empty and wonder at the sanity of the prolonged messaging that said during a Climate Emergency that in a pandemic going by private car was safer.

It is to be hoped that when they head home after COP 26, delegates will take fond memories of Glasgow hospitality and of Scottish transport icons such as the forth Bridge. They may also have a few points to ponder.

John Yellowlees, Scottish chair, CILT


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