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Meeting date: Thursday, January 13, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament 13 January 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Holistic Family Support, Portfolio Question Time, Car Travel, National Mission on Drugs, Decision Time


Car Travel

The next item of business is a statement by Graeme Dey on reducing Scotland’s car travel by 20 per cent by 2030. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


Today, I am pleased to publish a draft route map setting out how we will reduce car use to help create a fairer and greener Scotland. I am not aware of any other country in the world that is committing to such an ambitious objective. It sits within and alongside our world-leading commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 and to make Scotland a net zero nation by 2045.

The commitment is informed by the research on decarbonising transport that was published last September. The modelling in the research makes it clear that to decarbonise travel at the scale and pace needed to meet our statutory emissions targets we must not only switch to cleaner cars but reduce their overall use. In short, we need to drive down our car use. To achieve a 20 per cent reduction in car kilometres by 2030, we must look across a range of trip types, including short urban-based trips as well as longer leisure-related trips. Just 3 per cent of car trips are more than 35 kilometres, yet they are responsible for 30 per cent of the total kilometres travelled and thus make a disproportionate contribution to total emissions.

Understanding how people currently use their cars, alongside strong evidence that people want to see more Government action taken to address climate change, allows us to start a national conversation to support people to do what they tell us they want to do—to cut the distance that they travel by car. We have known that for some time, but today we shift up a gear with a much clearer destination in sight, and we begin the work of engaging people to understand the role that they can play as individuals and how that can translate into wider benefits in health and wellbeing for themselves, their families and their communities.

The route map is underpinned by three guiding principles. The first is that it is collaborative. It has been developed jointly with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and officials have also engaged widely with local authority and regional partners. That partnership matters, because change cannot be achieved solely at national level; it needs local solutions to be identified and delivered.

Secondly, the route map makes it clear that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Although 20 per cent is a national target, that does not mean that car use in rural and remote areas is expected to drop at the same rate as in towns and cities. We know that access to transport options varies across Scotland, so we will work with and support local partners to identify solutions that are most appropriate to Scotland’s urban, rural and island communities.

Thirdly, the principle of a just transition is at the heart of the route map, which will support our work to tackle inequality and child poverty. The route map recognises that there will be some people for whom reducing car use, especially in the short term, will be more challenging, including disabled people and their families. However, we also need to recognise the unfairness of the status quo where the car is king and car use is made too easy at the expense of other fairer options.

For people on the lowest incomes, 60 per cent have no access to a car. Of those with a long-term health problem or disability, the figure is 46 per cent. Younger and old people, women and certain minority ethnic groups are also less likely to have access to a car, including in rural areas. Also, we know that the worst effects of car use—air and noise pollution, road danger, community severance and congestion—fall disproportionately on the most marginalised in our society. Children in Scotland’s poorest communities are at three times higher risk of death or injury while out walking or cycling than those in other areas.

Reducing car dominance is about climate justice, but it also gets to the heart of social justice. That is why the route map identifies four key behaviours that will frame and underpin our national conversation. We want people to make use of sustainable online options to reduce their need to travel; to choose local destinations to reduce the distance that they travel; to switch to walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport where possible; and, although the past two years have discouraged this for very good reason, over time we want people to combine a trip or share a journey to reduce the number of individual car trips that they make, if a car remains the only feasible option.

Supporting and encouraging people to achieve those changes forms the basis of the 30-plus interventions that are identified in the route map. Some of them are already under way, including providing free bus travel for people aged under 22, which from the end of this month will enable more children, young people and their families to choose to travel by local bus, and our reaching 100 per cent broadband commitment to provide superfast broadband access for every home and business in Scotland to help to reduce the need to travel.

Other actions will take longer, but our commitment is backed up by significant long-term investment such as ensuring that at least 10 per cent of the total transport budget will go to active travel by 2024-25, to help more people to walk, wheel or cycle instead of drive. However, we cannot escape the scale of the challenge and must acknowledge that changing decades of belief and behaviour requires a mix of infrastructure, incentivisation and regulatory actions, some of which we still need to explore, test and apply.

In 2019, we provided local authorities with a new discretionary power to set up workplace parking licensing schemes, which can reduce congestion, improve air quality and reduce emissions. The regulations that enable local authorities to use those powers were laid before Parliament yesterday.

No one person or agency carries all the responsibility to make change happen. Transport demand derives from other factors; where people live, work, learn and access goods and services are all key to their need to travel. We need to use national and local government powers and responsibilities to reduce people’s need to travel by providing better local access to goods, services, leisure opportunities and social connections, as well as providing flexible and remote working approaches and more sustainable travel options for those who need to travel longer distances.

Scotland’s Climate Assembly identified, as one of its top five goals, the implementation of an integrated, accessible and affordable public transport system and improved local infrastructure throughout Scotland. The route map sets out the actions that we are taking, including the fair fares review, which will consider options for change against a background where the costs of car travel are declining and public transport costs are increasing. In short, we are already committed to finding ways to make alternative travel modes more attractive and supporting people to use the car less.

We want that work to be as inclusive as possible. We want to empower everyone to do what they can to reduce their car use and help tackle climate change, and we want to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from the individual and community-level impacts of their actions. However, we do not have control of all the levers that are needed to achieve that. Fuel duty and vehicle excise duty remain reserved to the United Kingdom Government, which has at least acknowledged that, as we transition away from fossil fuels, changes to our tax system will be required.

We will continue to press the UK Government for constructive dialogue on what it plans to replace those with. The best solution, of course, would be for the UK Government to scrap those duties and wholly devolve the powers to Scotland, so that we can design and deliver fiscal solutions that best meet Scotland’s needs and interests. In no part of the UK is the transport fiscal set-up credible.

That is why, alongside those efforts, we will commission research to explore equitable options for demand management to discourage car use, while encouraging fewer journeys to be taken by car and more journeys to be taken by public and active transport options. That includes pricing and the cost of motoring; at this stage, we cannot and should not rule anything out. Transport remains our biggest emitting sector, with cars responsible for most transport emissions. Reducing those emissions requires bold and radical action. The route map enables us to meet that challenge with a clear end point in sight.

Although there are simple changes that we can make, achieving such a significant shift for so many of us will not be easy. However, we know from previous successes such as the indoor smoking ban that it can be done. The prize is worth having: safer roads, reduced pollution, more space in neighbourhoods for other users and better physical and mental health. Getting this right is win-win-win-win.

We will consult publicly on the route map, kick-starting the critical wider national conversation that we need to have about car use. That conversation must become a crucial shared national endeavour through which everyone feels empowered to change their habits, comfortable that they have affordable and sustainable alternative options to use to get around, and confident that they know that their actions are benefiting their health and wellbeing as well as that of their family and community. In doing so, we will all play our part in helping Scotland to contribute to cutting emissions, limiting global warming to 1.5°C and tackling climate change.

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move to the next item of business. It would be helpful if members who wish to ask a question pressed their request-to-speak buttons or typed an R in the chat function now.

I would describe the statement as a starting point. There is stuff in there that is worth discussing and I look forward to doing that when I next meet the minister. However, like many Government documents, it is full of warm words but little in the way of meaningful action.

The first question that I have is this: what is the 20 per cent reduction in car miles—I say “miles” because that is what we deal with in this country, not kilometres—based on? For many people in Scotland, and I think that the minister knows this because he lives in a rural part of the country, the car is a necessity, so where will that 20 per cent come from? If we are going to target urban areas more than rural areas, what will be the difference between them?

If we want to get people out of cars, we need to give them an alternative. That alternative could be active travel—I very much support spending on that—or it could be public transport. We have seen announcements of an increase in rail fares and service cuts, and we have seen no meaningful reform to the bus system. What does the minister say about that? How does that encourage people on to public transport?

We have also had vague promises for years of a national smart card for public transport. There is no sign of that yet, yet delegates to the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—were able to have one. If it was good enough for them, why is it not good enough for the rest of the country? When will we get that national smart card?

Finally, near the end of the minister’s statement, he got in a mention of fuel duty. We have had an 11-year freeze on fuel duty; now the minister says that he wants to take control of it. Is he suggesting that we end the freeze? What is he suggesting? What does he want to replace it with? Perhaps he can tell us.

I accept that this is a starting point—that is exactly what it is. It kicks off the discussion. However, there is a lot more to it than Mr Simpson acknowledges. Plenty of actions are under way and plenty are highlighted in the document.

The 20 per cent cut in car kilometres is what is determined to represent a meaningful and necessary contribution to tackling wider transport emissions. I acknowledged in my statement that there is a discrepancy between what it is realistic to expect from rural dwellers as opposed to urban dwellers. Mr Simpson is right that I represent a rural area, although there are rural areas that are more remote than mine.

How we take this forward will be shaped by partnership. Mr Simpson asks what the alternatives will be. We are looking to work in partnership with local transport partnerships and local councils to determine what the best solution is for their areas. We believe that they can make that contribution. I think that we have made a good start to that already in terms of COSLA’s direct involvement.

On bus system reform, I am delighted to hear that Mr Simpson is such a proponent of radical change to the bus system.

I have been for some time.

He has been for some time—let me acknowledge and welcome that, and I do the same for Mr Smyth over there. I, too, am in that space. I look forward, in the coming year and beyond, to using the powers in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 to see what we can do to change and improve the bus system.

As for a national smart card, that work continues to be progressed. It will be progressed throughout this year. We have made some progress, but we have much more to do.

Mr Simpson also touched on the subject of fuel duty. His own United Kingdom Government has acknowledged that maintaining the current approach really is not an option. What we want to do is work with that Government—although we would rather have the powers here—to design something that is fairer all round but which recognises the pressing need to drive down car usage.

I call Neil Bibby, who joins us remotely.

I thank the minister for advance sight of his statement.

This is not a route map to reduce car use; it is an excuse to hit people in Scotland with a workplace parking tax when they are already suffering from a cost of living crisis. As I have said before, we will not reduce car use unless we have affordable, reliable and accessible public transport, but public transport in Scotland is a joke and, under this transport minister, it is getting worse.

If the minister is serious about tackling the climate crisis and helping people to leave the car at home, will he reverse his cuts to ScotRail services? If he is serious, will he reverse his own rip-off rail fares that are due to go into effect later this month? If he is serious, will he stop ScotRail shutting ticket desks? If he is serious, will he properly fund local councils to take control of bus services? The transport minister does not seem to be very serious about improving public transport.

Finally, will the minister answer the question that he was asked before: when will people start to see the national smart-ticketing card that was promised by the First Minister 10 years ago?

This is big-vision stuff. It is about significant and fundamental behavioural change. It would be regrettable if we simply rehearsed the arguments that we have in the chamber week in, week out, with Mr Bibby being very much fixated on rail and the idea that the solution to everything is to spend more money, regardless of usage, patronage and the challenges that we have. It is about much more than that.

The rail context is a little bit like the situation with car sharing—we need to encourage car sharing but it is very challenging to do that right now because of the pandemic. We see rail playing a significant part in the rest of this decade and beyond, but we face significant financial challenges that we must address right now.

On the subject of the timetable, for example, what we have is a baseline and starting point for rebuilding as we look at what future travel patterns will be. We have to deliver services that meet people’s expectations and needs and when they will travel, and that might well change as a result of Covid.

On smart cards, as I said to Mr Simpson, we are making progress in general with smart ticketing, and I expect significant progress to be made in the next year to 18 months.

Glasgow has an incredibly good public transport system but, during Covid, people were encouraged to use their cars and I think that some are now fearful of going back to public transport. How will the Government encourage people back to public transport from their cars?

Public transport is critical to this agenda. We all have to acknowledge the impact that Covid-19 has had on passenger numbers and confidence. As we emerge from the pandemic, there will be a period when we have to encourage and rebuild people’s confidence. There is no single magic solution to that challenge; it will take a combination of actions and it will take time.

The fair fares review will support a safe and confident return to public transport as we recover from the pandemic, and it will ensure that there is a viable and sustainable public transport system for the future. The review will look at a range of discounts and concessionary schemes that are currently available for transport modes and it will consider options to extend or amend those. That is especially important with the backdrop of car travel costs declining and public transport costs increasing.

We will obviously support more bus and rail usage. In the context of bus travel, that is through free travel for the over-60s and disabled people, and the extension of that to the under-22s. We are investing significantly in bus priority infrastructure, and in maintaining and enhancing Scotland’s railway in the current control period, including rail station investment and future decarbonisation.

The minister suggests reducing the need to travel by pushing people to online options. However, the reaching 100 per cent—R100—programme has continually slipped, with the northern part delayed until 2027 and £50 million slashed from the digital budget. What impact does the minister project pushing people online will have on high street businesses and local bus services? Given the R100 delays, is he conceding that, once again, the north-east will be left behind as the Scottish National Party implements projects in the central belt?

That was a rather brave line for a Conservative to take on the subject of broadband. With the greatest respect to Mr Kerr, broadband is a United Kingdom Government responsibility—no ifs, buts or maybes. The Scottish Government has had to step in with R100 and the previous project to provide rural Scotland with appropriate online access.

I will pick up on Liam Kerr’s serious point, shall we say, about encouraging online usage. There will be situations when going online and using those options will have a positive impact on our climate footprint. However, as I outlined in my statement and other documents, we are trying to strike a balance, because we are also trying to encourage, for example, greater usage of rural high streets. What we are saying, among other things, is that, if someone lives in a rural area, they should try to put their journeys together so that they are not making two, three or four journeys a week into town. They should try to reduce their car usage but, by all means, they should get out on the high street and support it, because it is important that we maintain our local high streets for the future.

One of the issues in my Aberdeenshire constituency is that public transport, particularly buses, that can take people between the towns in the area for work without having to go through Aberdeen first can be very poor. That is why so many of my constituents rely on a car to get to work on time. As the minister said in his statement, not all the actions needed to make alternative transport options efficient, affordable and available rest with the Scottish Government. What role does the minister think that local authorities and other partners need to play to improve public transport and increase routes and services that might not, on the surface, seem to be profitable but that are essential if we are to provide an alternative to rural car use?

I am conscious that I need to choose my words carefully here, because I do not want to give the impression that we are somehow lumping responsibility on to local authorities—far from it. We are talking about genuine partnership working. The member is right to identify that collaborative working will be key to achieving the target. I also commend the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities for its input to the document.

Local authorities and regional transport partners will be key to reducing car usage, not least through spatial planning and land use decisions. Local authorities have a key role in demand management schemes and in continuing to deliver low-emission zones, in deciding whether to create local workplace parking licensing schemes and in deciding how they might draw down investment from bus partnership funding and active travel and the other funding schemes that exist. We have recently awarded £12 million from our bus partnership fund to help the north-east of Scotland bus alliance with some of its proposals.

I also point Ms Martin to a project in Elgin, in her neighbouring constituency. It is a mass mobility-as-a-service project. I visited it and was hugely impressed with the potential of the pilot project to be rolled out across Scotland. Such services could really play a part in what we all need to achieve here.

We will not get people out of their cars unless we put in place public transport alternatives. The minister said that regulations for the workplace parking tax were laid before Parliament yesterday, but more than two years after I secured amendments to the Transport (Scotland) Bill to give councils the power to set up publicly owned bus services, there is no sign of the regulations to deliver those. When will those powers be given to councils? How much additional funding will be given to councils to set up those bus companies, so that we can reverse the massive decline in bus usage that we have seen under this Government?

As, I hope, Mr Smyth will acknowledge, the pandemic has played a part in derailing a number of things that we wanted to implement. I have said this to him before, and I will say it again: he and I are not on opposite sides of this. We share the desire to implement these proposals and to encourage councils, and whoever else, to take advantage of such powers to deliver the kind of bus services that both he and I want to see. The regulations will be introduced this year.

On how the proposals will be funded, we have committed to establishing the community bus fund, and there is £1 million in the budget for forthcoming years as a starting point. I look forward to working with Mr Smyth to bring all of that to fruition.

Car drivers, of which I am one, use that mode of transport because of its ready convenience in all weathers and 24 hours a day. Road and fuel taxes are reserved, and increasing the cost of driving will only disadvantage low-income households. What improvements to public transport will be made, particularly in rural and island Scotland, to persuade drivers to make the necessary modal shift, given that it has been estimated that a 50 per cent increase in public transport is required to cut car usage by 1 per cent?

Reducing private car usage will be more challenging for people who live in rural and island areas. However, we can all do more, and Kenny Gibson highlights one of the challenges here. People do find it more convenient to jump in their car. We all do it for all sorts of journeys, whether or not alternatives are readily available. That needs to change. Part of it is about ensuring that people have good access to employment, goods and services locally through initiatives such as remote working, community hubs and 20-minute neighbourhoods, all of which we are working on.

We also need to tackle some of the myths. I disagree with something that Kenny Gibson said. It is not people who are on lower incomes or who live in poor areas who are going to be disadvantaged by making public transport more affordable and accessible. They already rely on it and they are much less likely to be using a car. There is also an equalities argument about reducing car usage.

I will pick up on an example from Kenny Gibson’s own constituency. The ferry from Brodick comes into Ardrossan, and there is a rail station adjacent to the ferry terminal. We need to exploit such opportunities more so that people have more ready access to rail when they come on to the mainland and when they are leaving the mainland to go to the islands. There are lots of such opportunities that we can develop, and I look forward to working with Mr Gibson, other island representatives and local authorities to see what more we can do to ensure that the opportunity is there for island residents to play their part.

Beatrice Wishart joins us remotely.

In his statement, the minister acknowledged that rural, remote and island communities are not expected to reduce car use at the same rate as their urban counterparts. As other members have suggested, car users in such areas would consider cars to be essential, not luxury, items.

Will the minister outline how the 10 per cent of the transport budget that it is proposed will be spent on active travel before 2024-25 will be apportioned across the diverse regions of Scotland?

I would not presume to encroach on my colleague Patrick Harvie’s territory by going into any great detail on that.

Surely you would.

Mr Simpson is being very uncharitable.

However, I think that Beatrice Wishart makes a very fair point. We must ensure that all the budget opportunities can be accessed by local authorities and regional transport partnerships, wherever in the country they may be.

I encourage Beatrice Wishart to work with her council, Shetland Islands Council, but I also point to some of the good work that is being done by the neighbouring authority, Orkney Islands Council. I encourage Beatrice Wishart and Shetland Islands Council to put together a package of measures that they think would ensure that her constituency played its part. If such proposals are brought forward, they will be looked at.

Jenni Minto joins us remotely.

I thank the minister for his statement, and I am pleased that the route map takes into account people’s differing needs regarding vehicle travel and the availability of public transport in rural and island settings. Could the minister please provide further details of how that element of the route map will develop?

In the route map, we very much recognise that rural areas tend to rely more heavily on private car use and have less access to public and shared transport options. We know that, for rural and island areas, the challenge is greater. It is important to emphasise that we are talking about a national ambition, but that does not mean that car use in rural and remote areas is expected to drop at the same rate as it is expected to drop in towns and cities.

As a nation, we need to change our relationship with the car in order to drive down our emissions. That is why the four themes are not just about switching transport mode. For people in remote areas, digital solutions offer a key opportunity to reduce car usage. That is why we have invested so heavily in extending broadband to more than 950,000 premises across Scotland, including in Argyll and Bute.

I will jump on the back of Kenny Gibson’s question and the minister’s reply to it. Would the minister consider developing a train station at Cairnryan and improving the rail link north to the central belt? That could reduce car travel considerably. Let us face it—investment in the infrastructure of the south-west is long overdue.

That was a shameless plug for one of the member’s projects.

The point here is that the issue is not so much about infrastructure, which sits in other parts of the Government’s agenda. However, if the argument can be made that a project fits with the agenda of reducing car travel, local authorities should, by all means, come forward with costed proposals for such projects and outline how they think they could make the difference that we need to make.

In a spirit of co-operation, I would not shoot down any project of that nature, but let us see what such a project would look like in detail.

Mark Ruskell joins us remotely.

I welcome the route map, which represents a really big step towards bringing about a green transport revolution. I also welcome the fact that the minister has recognised the role of demand management measures such as workplace parking levies. Does he agree that, where appropriate—I emphasise the phrase “where appropriate”—workplace parking levies or even congestion charging schemes can also raise substantial finance to invest in affordable, reliable and attractive alternatives to the private car that will end up benefiting the most disadvantaged?

We will have to deploy a range of measures in order to get to where we need to get to. The power to establish workplace parking levies will be at the disposal of local authorities, which will make judgments about whether that is appropriate. A range of measures linked to that will ensure that excessive charges cannot be levied.

Mark Ruskell’s point is correct, although I heard some groans as he made it. This will require courage. We must be bold and confront the challenges that we face. Some members in the chamber were not here at the time, but many voted for the climate change targets that the Parliament adopted, and those who voted for them have a responsibility to live up to the challenges that come with them. I encourage members to remind themselves of that. It is easy to vote for legislation; it is far harder to support the difficult decisions that follow if we are to deliver on those targets.

I understand the Government’s need to explore all the ways in which to achieve the target. Any research on managing demand must consider how to disincentivise car use. Although running a car has become cheaper, the cost of public transport has gone up. What must happen to reverse that situation? What is the UK Government, which has similar climate change targets to meet, doing about that?

Tackling the affordability and availability of public transport is key to making it sustainable and equitable for more people. We acknowledge that rail and bus fares have risen above the level of general inflation in the past decade while motoring costs have fallen in Scotland, as they have in the rest of the UK. We must address that if we are to drive down car use.

The UK Government has at least replied to our request for information about what it plans to do to reform fiscal duties on vehicles, but the detail is pretty sketchy. The UK Government says that it will do something, but we need detail about what it plans, because the clock is ticking.

Graham Simpson is, as ever, chirping away at me from a sedentary position, but this is a serious matter. His own Government at Westminster has recognised that the status quo is not an option. For a variety of reasons, we must change. We can do that collectively or the UK Government can give us the powers to shape a system that is best suited to Scottish needs. Either way, something must change.

Glasgow has the lowest car ownership rates in Scotland, yet it was discovered this week that the M8 motorway through central Glasgow has noise pollution levels equivalent to standing on the runway at Glasgow airport. The minister may be as shocked as I was to discover that. Will he urgently instruct officials from Transport Scotland to investigate the issue and to bring forward proposals to address that emergency level of noise pollution in the centre of Glasgow?

I am not entirely sure what that has to do with the focus of the minister’s statement, but he may wish to deal briefly with the question and try to relate it somehow to the target to reduce car use by 2030.

I am aware of the assertions that have been made. I am happy to look into that matter with my officials and to write back to Mr Sweeney.

That concludes questions on the minister’s statement. There will be a short pause before we move to the next item of business.