Drivers who switch their commute from car to public transport should be paid a £400 a year bonus from the proposed workplace parking levy, a transport expert urged today.
Professor David Begg, a former Edinburgh City Council transport convener, called on MSPs to “get serious” about combating Scotland’s climate and obesity crises.
He also said the levy should cover all non-residential car parking including out-of-town shopping centres.
The Transport Times chief executive, who was chairing the Scottish Transport Summit in Glasgow: “If we really want to tackle pollution, congestion leaving their and the public health and climate crises, then we have to persuade people to change their travel habits.
"Financial incentives should be a part of that.
“The bottom line is if you provide a free parking space at work then the best public transport in the world won’t persuade people to ditch their cars.
"Our politicians need to get serious about this fact.”
MSPs are considering plans for a tax on workplace car parking spaces following the example of Nottingham, where the charge is £415 a year.
The English city has used the revenue to improve transport, such as its tram network.
However, Mr Begg said the money should go instead to commuters leaving their cars at home.
Local authorities would decide whether to introduce schemes, with Glasgow and Edinburgh keenest.
Mr Begg claimed some of the concerns over the levy had been overblown and that legal exemptions from the scheme should be limited.
He said: “There’s nothing to stop councils designing schemes that allow social workers, nurses and shift workers to use vehicles for their work.
"But we shouldn’t be shy of using financial incentives to persuade public sector as well as private sector employees to change their habits."
However, Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken told the summit the levy should create "a general revenue stream that would also fund major improvements in transport".
She said: "The absence of effective car restraint in the city centre is why congestion is so acute" - and had also contributed to a significant decline in bus use.
Motoring group IAM RoadSmart said cash incentives would not be enough to persuade drivers to switch.
Policy and research director Neil Greig said "People do like incentives, but public transport alternatives would have to take a quantum leap forward to really attract drivers out of there cars.
"£400 a year may seem like a lot, but when you can buy a brand new car for £99 a month it doesn’t look quite so enticing.
"David Begg's ideas on getting employers much more involved in tailored incentives for their staff are far more likely to change behaviour than broad-brush giveaways "