Find a better way than a car to get around town

Traffic can become unbearable at this time of year. Picture: Jamie Forbes
Traffic can become unbearable at this time of year. Picture: Jamie Forbes
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ALTERNATIVES to lone car trips are best for all, says Russell Imrie.

At this time of the year, travelling can be a lot more stressful than usual. Not only do we have to contend with bad weather that makes driving hazardous, but there are more people out and about at the festive season. Getting from A to B can be an ordeal that takes the shine off seasonal goodwill and with the new lower drink drive levels you can’t take a risk.

The main problem is traffic. Our roads are becoming ever more clogged and at this time of the year, the pressure on the roads is greater than usual.

But do we always need to use the car? Is it an advantage to drive; or is it just often a habit – not always done through necessity – which does not represent the easiest, cheapest or most socially responsible way to get from A to B?

Life can be made easier, by using the improvements in public transport that SEStran, along with local authorities, transport providers and others have been working on.

SEStran aims to make public transport the mode of choice for most journeys and much has already been achieved to improve the quality of public transport in South East Scotland. Travellers can expect a better quality of service that will improve as more resources are invested in improvements and innovations.

Edinburgh is surrounded by park and ride sites that enable drivers to leave cars at a free parking space and to take a fast, affordable bus journey into town. This relieves pressure on the city’s roads, cutting traffic congestion and making our beautiful capital less crowded. It’s also easier on the traveller, who does not need to struggle to find expensive parking.

Bus travel in South East Scotland has become much easier in 2014.

SEStran, in partnership with Stagecoach and First, has spent more than £4 million introducing bustrackerSEStran; a real time passenger information system, accessible through a website and free downloadable smartphone app. This gives live bus times on selected First Scotland East and Stagecoach services throughout East Lothian, the Borders, Fife and West Lothian, and on services between Dumfries & Galloway and the Borders. The system was recently awarded gold in the Local Authority Bus Project of the Year category, at the 2014 National Bus Awards.

Around 350 vehicles on busy routes have been included in bustrackerSEStran, with many more scheduled to be added in 2015. SEStran also plans to introduce information screens at selected public areas across the region, which will extend access to live bus time information. Passengers are being put back in control of their journeys; knowing exactly when their bus will arrive, allowing them to plan their journeys more accurately.

This has been made possible through financial support from the Scottish government which has provided almost £1m from the Bus Investment Fund (BIF); a 40 per cent contribution from the EU European Regional Development Fund, together with £1.3m SEStran funding and contributions from our local authority partners – not least West Lothian Council, which invested £420,000. A further £1m of BIF funding will be spent extending the system in 2015.

Sometimes driving may be the sensible option. So why not car share? TripshareSEStran allows members to choose suitable car shares either on regular journeys or for one-off trips. Over 7000 people in South East Scotland have discovered that sharing a regular journey can lead to savings of up to £1000 per year.

SEStran is participating in two new projects promoting car sharing; NweRIDE; which aims to improve peoples’ connectivity by using dynamic lift share systems linked into public transport networks, and CHUMS; which seeks to address the problem of low car occupancy and the 50% of journeys in cities that cannot be accommodated by conventional public transport modes.

We will continue to seek ways to enhance public transport and offer people viable alternatives to the car but we can’t do it alone. We need your help.

So this year, see if you can make a resolution to try one of the improved public transport options – or make it a new year’s resolution, to use the bus wherever possible; maybe even get on your bike or walk for shorter journeys, and share car as often as you can.

If we change our approach to transportation by considering the impact our choices will make, we can all contribute towards a better future for our children.

• Cllr Russell Imrie is chair of SEStran


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