Scotland's National Transport Strategy

  • Insight

31 July 2019

The Scottish Government has launched its consultation on the new draft National Transport Strategy (NTS) for Scotland, which aims to set out a compelling vision for the future of transport for the next twenty years. The NTS will need to address the role of transport on the economy, equality, health and wellbeing and the environment.

With the European Union predicting that transport will make up 25% of all emissions in the EU by 2030, and with road transport making up 70% of that, there is a significant environmental element (specifically climate change) related content in the new Strategy.

A business perspective

Environmental aspects of the new Strategy need not necessarily be at odds with business or the economy.  If there is a co-ordinated approach between transport, energy, communications and industrial policies, along with land use planning policies, there could be a significant opportunity for our economy.

Decarbonisation of transport is inevitably linked to the availability of alternative energy (fuel) for transport, as well as smarter transport choices. It is the rise of data, as the force driving the economy, which offers new possibilities for how we organize and deliver production, transport and consumption of all manner of things. This offers new levels of efficiency gains and lowering of costs (especially on back office functions).

It’s essential that our transport services, and the infrastructure they in turn rely upon, are reliable and resilient. And, wherever possible, with contingency planning and its users kept informed when things do go wrong.

A transport system which consistently delivers high quality services in an accessible and integrated manner is one which supports the economy. This will encourage people to visit, study, trade with, invest and live in Scotland.

Aligning transport policy

Transport inevitably interfaces with a great many other areas of policy, not least land use planning. Transport therefore has a role to play in place making by the connectivity provided. In due course the revised National Transport Strategy, the Strategic Transport Projects Review and the National Planning Framework will need to be aligned.

The recognition of the importance of city regions for economic development and the objectives and potential impact of City Deals (including but not limited to transport projects under them) needs to be reflected, not just in the regional transport strategies of each area in question, but nationally too.

The choices made in transport provision and infrastructure can have major impacts on social inclusion. Not just in accessibility for disabled people, but across a more general issue. If transport provision is too expensive to use, has dysfunctional timing or frequency or simply is not available, it excludes people and locations from vital services and the wider economy.

The need for innovative solutions

With record levels of employment and skills gap issues, Scotland needs to optimise labour market accessibility. That can take many forms, including promotion of active travel options. The art of the possible will require a degree of flexibility on a case by case and location by location basis to allow innovative solutions to be found.

As with the work of Glasgow’s Connectivity Commission, however, overarching policies and their specific implementation must be based on an analysis of factual position, after careful consideration, rather than rhetoric. Being mindful of the risk of gaming, the creation of perverse incentives or otherwise collateral damage is necessary.

Add in the advances in connectivity and there are potential significant gains to be made with new interactions between people, vehicles and infrastructure. This will lead to new business models and a rise of collaborations amongst and across suppliers and modes of transport.

Intelligent transport systems

This is about far more than solving the challenge of not-spots on trains and other modes of transport. Intelligent transport systems and decarbonisation may entail a fundamental rethink of our infrastructure.

The pace of change could be very rapid indeed, with what seems far-fetched now being capable, if enabled by an appropriate policy framework, of being achieved far sooner than might be imagined.

Think about how rapidly the UK moved from a horse-drawn economy to one dominated by the internal combustion engine in little over 20 years just a century ago. The more recent advances in mobile phone technology or the renewables industry in Scotland saw similar timeframes.

The Transport Strategy must be drafted in a way that is mindful of emerging technologies and the potential they offer, whilst taking cognisance of the existing shortcomings and pressures on various aspects of our transport networks. Safety and security, including data security, will need to be factored in to how new transport solutions are developed, deployed and regulated.

Transport opportunities in Scotland

Scotland’s size offers opportunities for new technologies to be trialled and deployed at a city level.  The coalescence of engineering and industrial design capabilities in and around Glasgow offers a potential not just for Transport provision but for industrial policy and economic growth, and acts as a benchmark for other parts of Scotland and the UK.

Whilst it is natural to think of land transportation, the existing capabilities and potential of both our maritime sector (as championed by the Scottish Maritime Cluster) and aviation, defence and space sector should not be forgotten.

The two main challenges

There are two main challenges to the Transport Strategy. Firstly, there is fundamental problem with discussing transport policy. Too often any discussion is framed from the perspective of personal travel; of the passenger journey.

Freight and logistics issues are, despite delivering the goods, too often ignored, overridden or consigned to the ’too difficult’ pile. Whilst people rather than packages or pallets have a vote, the Beast from the East and some of the practical concerns around Brexit ought to be a reminder of the fundamental role of efficient and effective supply chains as well as passenger transport.

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. The strategy cannot possibly please everyone all the time; choices will need to be made. It is inevitable that the last mile for nearly all deliveries will be by road; and there is precious little cargo that can be carried on a bike.

Secondly, reliability and resilience are key.  Where infrastructure upgrades and new vehicles are committed to, if the economic (and social) benefits sought are to be delivered, such projects must be delivered consistently on time and in a manner that they ‘work out of the box’ first time.  There is work to be done here.

An effective Scottish transport system

We can all agree that Scotland is both big enough to be able to test new ideas and also small enough to bring the private and public sectors together to create a meaningful productive partnership. Tapping into our respective strengths and networks can only ever be a good thing as we rise to the challenge of creating an effective transport system for our businesses and communities.

With younger generations focussing on experiences rather than ownership and the rise of the likes of Spotify and Netflix, the words of Enrique Penalosa (the former Mayor of Bogta in Colombia) gain greater resonance:  

“a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.”

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