National Transport Strategy

The RSE has responded to a consultation by the Scottish Government on the new draft National Transport Strategy.

The response emphasises the importance of data and innovation in the development of a smart, effective transport system. It also recommends that the Strategy adopt a more refined policy focus and make clear how it will support related policies such as the Climate Change Plan in achieving common objectives, such as improving urban air quality. In terms of implementation, the Society believes the Scottish Government should strive to build effective partnerships with industry and the voluntary sector while also considering whether Scotland’s present system of transport governance can deliver the integrated aims of the Strategy. In the short term, there are numerous cost-effective ‘quick wins’ that could be pursued to benefit the affordability, efficiency, reliability, accessibility, and digital connectivity of transport services in Scotland.

Paper summary

The draft National Transport Strategy appears to follow a “business as usual” approach to transport planning that fails to adequately acknowledge, and respond to, the fundamental changes that are currently being observed across the sector. Chief among these are a marked shift towards increasingly tailored journey planning and the rising popularity of more responsive and elastic providers, facilitated by the thriving mobile app economy and disrupters such as Uber.

In order to build a truly flexible and consolidated transport system, it must be data-driven, capable of collecting and disseminating information across platforms and providers. Before the operational stage, it will also be important to conduct further research into the actual transport needs of users and how these may differ in the future.

Industry and the voluntary sector will be key players in co-delivering elements of the draft National Transport Strategy, given the breadth of what the Scottish Government is seeking to accomplish. Both possess skills and knowledge that will be imperative to the formulation of inventive and practicable solutions to transport problems. In the case of the voluntary sector, voluntary organisations already have established relationships with the communities they serve. The draft Strategy can take advantage of these existing channels of communication to better understand and involve a broader range of stakeholders in designing the transport system.

The links between transport and adverse impacts on human health in terms of reduced air quality and increased noise exposure deserve greater recognition, with concrete remediating actions identified.

It is not clear the present system of transport governance is equipped to support the integrated aims of the draft Strategy. That being so, it may be necessary to devise a more collaborative governance system, one in which national-level oversight and community and regional input meet in the middle. It will also be important for the performance of any governing body to be transparently assessed and communicated, with clear procedures in place to remedy any shortcomings.

In addition to taxation, there could be scope to introduce more creative sources of funding, such as ‘pay as you go’ road usage schemes, added-value services, or land value capture.

Although a strategic vision remains necessary to guide the general direction of transport policy development, it should not preclude the implementation of cost-effective ‘quick wins’ that could lead to measurable positive impacts in the short term. These centre on improving affordability, efficiency, reliability, accessibility and digital connectivity, all of which could be facilitated by the opening of transport data.

By attempting to tackle numerous policy challenges simultaneously, the Strategy undermines its own aspirations by misdirecting its attention and resources to problems that are ultimately not within its remit to address. To avoid this, it would be helpful to clearly situate the draft National Transport Strategy within its wider policy context, such as the newly passed Transport (Scotland) Bill and the Climate Change Plan. This would clarify the ways in which these policies will influence and complement one another as well as definitively establish where responsibility lies for realising certain objectives (such as improving urban air quality).