SEStran: Innovation need to meet south-east Scotland’s transport needs

PUBLIC spending is under increasing pressure. Budgets are tight and many infrastructure projects have been downsized or in some cases cancelled.

'Public spending is under increasing pressure'. Picture: PA

These hard choices are unavoidable, as politicians and public officials strive to maximise the impact of public funding in a time of fiscal hardship.

Inevitably, transportation is not exempt from this process. Yet new developments in transport planning must still go ahead, if we are to be able to meet Scotland’s future transportation needs, and SEStran is laying the groundwork for future development by seeking new sources of funding. As the Strategic Regional Transport Partnership for South East Scotland, we exist to build a sustainable transportation system for south-east Scotland. We aim to achieve this by making public transport the mode of choice for most journeys and encouraging car sharing, cycling and walking where appropriate.

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Reducing the use of private cars is essential. South-east Scotland is facing a 10 per cent rise in population over the next 15 years. Many of the newcomers will travel across the region to work and the potential for rising levels of traffic congestion and pollution, with their negative impact on the economy and public health, is significant. The process of encouraging people out of their cars and on to public transport has to begin now. Despite the difficult economic climate, this is not something that can wait for more favourable economic conditions.

The need is not confined to commuter transportation. It is vital that we identify sustainable methods of moving freight that will reduce congestion and pollution and make best use of our transport resources to the benefit of business and to help grow the economy.

With these priorities in mind, SEStran has successfully bid for £2.4 million of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) match-funding for projects that seek to mainstream sustainable approaches to transportation.

This has enabled us to participate in a wide range of innovative projects in areas as diverse as sustainable freight management, development of ferry services, real-time bus passenger information and creative approaches to maximising the benefit of existing transport resources.

Dryport, which was completed in 2012, examined ways of establishing intermodal freight hubs to reduce congestion and improve efficiency by transferring road freight to sea and rail; Food Port aims to develop the North Sea Region as the leading food cluster and hub in Europe using efficient and sustainable transport systems; and Lo Pinod focuses on encouraging greater use of local ports to re-balance Europe’s transport network, reduce road congestion, aid regional development and deliver more freight by sustainable sea transport.

There is also I-transfer, which aims to increase the number of passengers commuting by water through improving water-based public transport systems in Europe’s North Sea Region, using innovative and sustainable ferry technology, improving efficiency and making regional ports more accessible. Meanwhile Weastflows seeks to encourage a move towards sustainable freight transport, and to address congestion issues while reducing the environmental impact of freight movements.

Right now, thanks to £1.31m in EU match funding, SEStran is poised to roll out RTPI – Real Time Passenger Information – across south-east Scotland. In total we are spending £3.28m implementing the new system – bustrackerSEStran, which is fully compatible with Edinburgh’s successful Bustracker system. Three hundred vehicles across the region will operate bustrackerSEStran, providing passengers with real-time updates on bus services, via the internet and a Smartphone app.

RTPI will put passengers back in control of their journeys. They will be kept informed of schedule changes, arrival times and whether any delays or other problems have occurred on the route. We believe this innovation will create a step change in the quality of service provided to public transport users in south-east Scotland.

Without European funding, projects like RTPI would be delayed, or even cancelled, creating inconvenience for the travelling public and potentially undermining the region’s future economic prosperity.

Progress in transport development cannot wait. It is a vital component in the economic wellbeing of the region. We will continue to seek new opportunities for partnership working that will help us to achieve our goal of creating a transportation system for south-east Scotland that is fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
• Cllr Russell Imrie is Chair of SEStran