By Tom Hart, Member of the Scottish Government Advisory Committee on Transport Statistics

AFTER high growth in car use from the 1950s to the 1990s, data since 2000 shows that, despite a seven per cent rise in population and a 35 per cent rise in cars licensed, passenger miles by car in 2016 were only 2.5 per cent above 2000. Data from England confirms falls in average annual miles per car and lower levels of car occupancy –encouraged by rises in households with access to multiple cars. Significant side-effects from more, but less-used, cars have been a rise in single-occupancy, including at commuting peaks, and aggravated problems of parking and city road congestion. Very little progress has been made in cutting transport carbon and improving local environments. Particularly among younger age groups, the desire to use cars has weakened along with shifts to other patterns of personal spending and lifestyles (including high growth in electronic communication) and greater stronger interest in health and environmental issues.

Since 2000 Official Scottish Government policy has encouraged shifts from cars to public transport and active travel yet outcomes are disappointing. Cars still account for 80 per cent of passenger miles in Scotland but, unlike 1950-1999, car use per head of population was no longer rising. Since 2000, rail is up from three per cent to five per cent of passenger miles with active travel up from 2.4 per cent to 3.2 per cent . However, these changes owe more to personal decisions than to strong and consistent government policies to encourage modal shift from cars and lower tramsport carbon. Personal decisions and indifferent government support (apart from a maintenance of free bus travel for pensioners rather than wider action to boost bus use as part of integrated policies for transport and access) have seen the bus share of passenger miles fall from 12 per cent in 2000 to four per cent.

Work now in progress on revising the National Transport Strategy (NTS), the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the Strategic Transport Projects Review offers the opportunity to deliver both low carbon and a stronger, more inclusive and sustainable economy. Well-integrated policy can raise the share of movement by rail, bus and active travel to around 35 per cent of total internal travel by 2040 – cars (including automated versions) would still have a share around 65 per cent but with this fall in share aiding the aims of improved local environments and faster shifts to low carbon.

The immediate NTS priorities need to be:

1) A review of fiscal, regulatory and pricing policies to ensure that these support government aims for transport and access amid changing personal preferences – completed by 2025.

2) Integrated zonal pricing for rail, bus and ferry transport in conjunction with replacing most road fuel taxation with differential pricing for road use and for parking and electrical charging

3) A stable Scottish rail electrification programme to, and beyond, 2025.

4) City transit and improved local environments, higher public transport frequency and better conditions for walking and cycling

The years to 2025 should see active preparation and consultation on more substantial transport infrastructure projects for phased introduction to 2040, e.g. electric road charging networks and implications for power supply and pricing; rail, road, ferry, port and airport priorities, enhanced maintenance of roads and pavements. The NTS needs to consider more ambitious trunk rail, city transit and active travel projects with funding aided by a substantial shift from major trunk road investments. Priorities should include more spend on better road and pavement maintenance and selective smaller-scale road schemes.