By Kenny Auld

IF Scotland is to reach net zero by the 2045 target date, the issue of sustainable transport is going to come right to the forefront and will require action all the way up from individual to government level.

As we encourage people to leave their cars behind and use more sustainable and active modes of transport, here in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park we are acutely aware that there are serious gaps in public transport provision in our rural areas.

Consequently 85% of the seven visitor trips to the National Park every year are by car. Our cities are rightly investing in active travel as a viable option for shorter journeys.

However, if Scotland is to achieve the target of 20% reduction in car kilometres by 2030, we need to provide attractive and integrated train, bus and ferry options for longer journeys to our visitor destinations.

The Netherlands is rightly lauded for its active travel investment and habits. However, what is less well known is that their car emissions by population are the same as here in the UK as they “need” cars for longer recreation and leisure trips.

Our transport system in rural areas does not consider volumes. It was understandably designed around essential services for residents such as journeys to school and healthcare. So there are more buses from Balloch to Balmaha on a Tuesday morning in November, than on a Saturday in the peak of the summer.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a surge in demand for day trips and staycations and this builds upon a longer trend. Spending time in places like the National Park has benefits for physical and mental wellbeing and the surge in visitor numbers in recent years has provided a much-needed boost for tourism businesses.

However, the increasing number of car journeys is not just contributing significantly to carbon emissions, it is also having an impact on traffic, local communities and the visitor experience.

The positive is that we clearly feel connected to these places and the high volume of journeys we are now seeing is more than enough to justify investment into new visitor-focused transport systems which reduce emissions, congestion, and create jobs as part of a green economy.

Developing and promoting sustainable ways for people to travel to, from and around the national park is a crucial part of our work to help tackle the climate emergency and we recently launched a digital journey planner to encourage more visitors to consider leaving the car at home.

A shift to more sustainable travel will not happen overnight and needs wide collaboration to ensure places such as the national park have an integrated transport system. Better connectivity, links to active travel networks and a joined-up transport system that is inclusive for all is the ambition.

The impacts of climate change are already being seen and felt in the national park through flooding and road closures due to landslides. Making sustainable transport a viable option for visitors needs to be part of the solution.

Kenny Auld is Head of Visitor Services at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority