September 2017
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Scottish Government activates active travel

The Scottish Government has at last made a truly major shift on active and sustainable travel, with £15 per head cycling+walking annual investment from 18/19 onwards and a range of other initiatives…

Whilst still not at the level of leading European cities and countries, some of which invest £20 per head for cycling alone, this doubles existing levels of investment, puts Scotland way ahead of the UK government, and is certainly better than we expected.   The commitment, boosting annual active travel funding from £39m to £80m, comes in the Programme for Government 17-18 [PFG].>

More generally, Friends of the Earth Scotland asks… is this the ‘greenest ever’ PFG?  We have some doubts on that score as regards transport [see ‘non-green’ below] but it certainly is a big step in the right direction.

In recent years, most increases in cycling investment have been relatively small amounts of one-off cash (example) scraped out of underspending elsewhere or from windfall government receipts.  Today’s increase, however, appears to be what is really needed – a 100% rise in the basic year-by-year funding which underlies proper planning, design and delivery of high quality schemes.

The new cash provides a huge challenge for Councils to gear up their skills and capacity to deliver such schemes, particularly at this time of continuing severe pressures on Council staffing – Edinburgh, for example, has cut 2000 staff in recent years.  Already the Council is behind schedule on routes such as Meadows-Canal, Roseburn-Canal, Fountainbridge and Marchmont-KB; it is hoping for Community Links Plus cash for major Meadows-GeorgeSt and West Edinburgh projects; and there are growing calls for other main road routes, notably Lothian Road.  Government must work with Councils to ensure these critical staffing issues are resolved.

WHY HAS IT HAPPENED?

Undoubtedly this major increase would not have happened without persistent long-term campaigning by many organisations, not least PoP, WCV, Spokes and other local and national groups.   However, decisions are taken at the top, and so this also needed a pro-active Minister willing to tough it out even with his own colleagues – a rare quality which Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has already displayed [Spokes 127, p4].

There is also growing pressure on Ministers from many MSPs, thanks to individuals (you?) who contact them – and thanks to the literally hundreds of smaller Community Links projects which MSPs see are wanted and appreciated in their own constituencies.

Finally with cycling expertise and experience building up, in Sustrans Scotland, in Transport Scotland’s own AT team, in Councils, in transport consultancies, at conferences, the pressure for more realistic funding just kept growing.

Probably all the above reasons were necessary for such a significant shift – and it is vital that this background continues so that budgets are used fully and effectively – and in future are further increased rather than risk being cut back.

A possible further reason is the fact that the SNP no longer has a majority at Holyrood and can only get votes through with support from at least one other party – most often the Greens.  This provides an incentive for policies to veer in a green direction.

POSITIVE STEPS IN THE PFG

PFG Active Travel section, p57

The PFG includes a whole range of new measures [see PFG page numbers in bullets below] which appear to mark a genuine shift towards a greater understanding of and commitment to cycling and walking, albeit ‘big transport’ retains top-dog position.   Always cautious, we’ll reserve final thoughts until the government’s 18/19 budget is published!  However…

  • [page 57] Active travel funding rises from £40m to £80m a year.
    • We hope this retains the ‘Cycling Walking Safer Streets’ (CWSS) element which aims to ensure that every council does at least some work on active travel.
    • We’d like to see an incentive included to encourage and give extra support to councils (like Edinburgh) that also invest some of their own capital, or who raise additional cash from other sources.
    • We also hope that the bulk of the cash will go to high quality infrastructure rather than too much on ‘hearts and minds’ projects which cannot be fully effective until the infrastructure to make people feel safe is there.
    • Finally, it would be nice if the budget document is clearer than in the past, rather than having cycling cash mixed in and unspecified within categories such as “future transport” and “sustainable transport.”
  • [p57] An Active Nation Commissioner is promised, “to ensure delivery of world-class active travel infrastructure across Scotland.”   This is potentially excellent, but all will depend on the person, their interests, remit and powers.
  • [p57] Electric bicycles will receive special promotion “to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from active travel.”  This is great, though we are very concerned about government ‘silo-thinking’ on e-mobility – see ‘e-mobility’ below.
  • [p30] A Transport Bill will tackle “obstructive and inconsiderate parking” – which we assume includes measures on pavement-parking and double-parking, for which Living Streets Scotland has long led an impressive campaign.
  • [p41] A bottle deposit scheme is planned – whilst plastic pollution is rightly hitting the headlines this should also help ‘cut’ broken glass on paths and roads, an issue Spokes has periodically raised, initially as a rather lonely voice, in a whole series of government consultations ever since 1997!   Our thanks to the huge multi-organisation campaign in the last few years by You Got the Bottle?
  • [p57] Low Emission Zones (LEZs) – in a major change, the government will now support LEZs by 2020 in Scotland’s 4 largest cities rather than just the one pilot previously expected. Further LEZs are promised in all relevant areas by 2023.  Not only should this bring a major improvement in public health, but it should (if government and councils are really serious) lead to heavy promotion of e-bikes and cargo-bikes [but see ‘e-mobility’ below].
  • [p59] Bike/Rail – Following major Spokes campaigns, particularly over bike capacity on rural tourist lines [e.g. here & here which generated two of our most-ever retweets, here & here] the PFG promises “dedicated carriages for cycles and outdoor sports equipment on rural routes in the north and west.”  The wording is open to various interpretations, though given rolling stock availability one probably shouldn’t get over-excited!  However, it certainly sounds as though bike capacity is being taken much more seriously than before.

Spokes Bulletin 124 [Spring 2016] showed how to find active travel cash from the trunk roads budget without cutting anything!

  • [p91] A further measure for safer roads will be a drug driving law, to complement the drink-driving laws (another drug!) which are already the toughest in the UK.
  • [p58] The trunk roads section, however, is perhaps the most intriguing – and potentially remarkable – news.  Whilst the £3bn A9 dualling will continue there is, astonishingly, no mention of the other £3bn dualling project – the A96 – which was loudly trumpeted in previous transport policy documents!  We don’t for a minute think it has been totally scrapped (and plans for the first section are well advanced) but perhaps the urgency is dropping – after all, the extra £40m a year for active travel has to come from somewhere!   Maybe the government read our article in Spokes 124 showing how merely ‘reprofiling’ all trunk road dualling from a 12-year programme to a 15-year, without cancelling anything, could free up £100m a year!!
THE NON-GREEN SPLODGES!

Even if the PFG proves to be the ‘greenest ever,’ as FOE wonders above, it is certainly not the greenest possible when it comes to transport!

  • [p60] Air Passenger Duty [APD] is to be cut by 50%, at a cost to the taxpayer of £160m – four times the increase in Active Travel funding – with an aim for eventual abolition.  This is wholly opposite to a socially inclusive or environmental policy.  Climate emissions are encouraged, rail travel is discouraged, and effectively cash is being transferred from the less well off, who rarely or never fly, to the frequent flyers.
  • [p39-40 & p57] Policy on e-mobility, sadly, is symptomatic of the silo-thinking which pervades government transport policy and has led to so many missed opportunities on active travel. The discouragement of fossil-fuelled vehicles [FVs] is welcome [p39-40] and the promotion of e-bikes is welcome [p57] but why is this not a coordinated e-mobility policy rather than 2 separate silos?  The whole would be so much more than the two halves.  People & businesses who use FVs are only being shown the EV option (e-car, e-van) despite the fact that for short trips e-bikes or cargo bikes may be the ideal answer.  Meanwhile e-bikes will be promoted only through cycling channels, a huge lost opportunity to integrate active travel policy with energy policy.   See our paper on e-mobility, originally for Edinburgh Council, but also submitted to Transport Scotland.
  • [p58] On trunk roads, whilst non-mention of the A96 [above] is most welcome, dualling of the A9 – even in its least trafficked sections – continues, alongside an inter-city rail line which is left as single track.  In effect, goods and passengers will be encouraged to transfer from rail to road!!  Cities at either end will be faced with increased traffic and congestion.  And whilst an original justification for A9 dualling was casualty-reduction, the introduction of average speed cameras has dramatically cut road danger.  Complete A9 dualling is now politically un-stoppable, but only strengthens the case for rail dualling, for which campaigning must continue.  We do of course welcome the parallel A9 cycleroute upgrades, but this certainly doesn’t justify the project as a whole.
CONCLUSION

The PFG brings a really major – and largely unexpected – improvement in active travel policy, and several other significant green advances in wider transport.  Overall transport policy, however, still leaves plenty room for improvement if it is to be truly socially inclusive and environmentally responsible.

WHAT YOU CAN DO
  • Don’t stop contacting your MSPs about cycling issues just because there is new cash.  To maintain this budget, and to ensure it is well spent, MSPs need to keep hearing from concerned individuals.  But when you are contacting government MSPs do start by congratulating them on the doubling of active travel funding – they deserve it on this occasion!
  • One area where we hope further progress is possible is an integrated e-mobility policy, as explained above, so that individuals and businesses moving away from FVs are made aware of the e-bike/cargo-bike alternatives, not just EVs.  If this interests you, contact your MSP and send us any useful replies.

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