How we will travel and commute in a net-zero Scotland

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How we will travel and commute in a net-zero Scotland

In episode three of the Tea and Talk Podcast, we speak to RSE Fellows Professor Gordon Masterton and Professor Iain Docherty about transport, mobility and what net-zero means in practice. 

Gordon is Chair of Future Infrastructure at the University of Edinburgh and has a wealth of experience advising on transport and infrastructure projects including Crossrail and HS2.

Iain is Dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Stirling, a leading researcher of transport and mobility and a former non-Executive Director of ScotRail.

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Episode transcript

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S04E03 – How we will travel and commute in a net-zero Scotland

[00:00:00] Rebekah Widdowfield: Hello, and welcome to the RSE Tea and Talk podcast series, a program inspired by the coffee houses of the 18th century, where great thinkers would come together to discuss ideas and matters of the day. I’m Rebekah Widdowfield and I’m chief executive of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which is Scotland’s national academy.

Our mission is to advance learning and make knowledge useful. And to do that we are holding conversations with some of our fellows and other leading experts in Scotland to talk about important issues and the challenges that we face as a society. You can find out more about our work on our website at

And today I’m speaking with Professor Gordon Masterton and Professor Iain Docherty.

Gordon is chair of future infrastructure at the University of Edinburgh and has a wealth of experience advising on transport and infrastructure projects including crossrail and HS2, Iain is Dean for Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Stirling, a leading researcher of transport on mobility and a non-executive director of Scotrail with such a wealth of experience and expertise who better than Gordon and Iain to talk to us today about transport mobility and climate change.

Gordon, I wonder if I can come to you first. We know that transport is clearly a major source of emissions around the world, but how well is the transport sector being doing in reducing emissions and decarbonising system?

[00:01:30] Gordon Masterton: Well, sadly very poorly actually and Scotland’s no exception to the general UK trend. If you look at the figures between 1990, when we really became seriously aware of climate change issues and the carbon reduction between 1919 and 2018 before the pandemic, there was a negligible reduction. You’re talking 14.8 mega tons of CO2 reducing to 14.6. So unlike the energy sector, it’s been a laggard in making any inroads into reducing our net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for the last 30 years.

[00:02:12] Rebekah Widdowfield: And why do you think is that about people are traveling more, not withstanding low carbon technologies coming in or is it just there hasn’t been the advances in technology in that sector in the way that maybe has elsewhere?

[00:02:24] Gordon Masterton: To me, it’s a combination of the reluctance to make behavioral changes and the way that we travel poor developments in technology, for sure we’re starting to see them now they’re coming through, but they haven’t had the opportunity to make an impact and steady increase in usage of transport over the last 30 years offsetting the benefits of a journey, reduction of carbon usage. So that combination one outperforming, and another underperforming through the increase in demand has led to a pretty much level playing field for the last 30 years. And reluctance to change from the private car as the principle means of getting from A to B and public transport in favor of public transport or walking and cycling.

[00:03:24] Rebekah Widdowfield: Sounds like there is quite a challenge that the missions are large and not decreasing, Iain maybe coming to you in headline terms, how do we make our transport systems more compatible with planet goals, is this all about electric vehicles? And what does net zero look like? I guess for transport, we hear a lot about net zero, but what does that actually look like in practice?

[00:03:48] Iain Docherty: First of all I’d agree with everything they Gordon said there about the general state of plays as it were. And I possibly be even more pessimistic. So if you look at what’s happened in recent years and we might want to talk about the impacts of the pandemic and what that means for the future later. But if you look at a period in the run-up to the pandemic , a lot of things we’re actually getting worse in the transport sector, so emissions began to fall, but then as the economy recovered after the global financial crisis, they actually started to increase in the transport states in Scotland again, and what’s really important to understand is that it’s driven by our behaviours collectively and transport is roughly 40% of our total emissions and then entering of that 40% is the private car.

And what’s happened in recent years, is that all the technological efficiencies and existing engines that the auto-industry has brought in, largely on the back of regulations from the European Commission and others, it’s all been cancelled out by our buying behaviour and buying larger cars. So if you go and have a wander around even most densely populated part of our cities and look at what the vehicles that are driven around today look like they’re bigger and heavier and use more and these more fuel by and large than the ones that we had even 10 years ago. So many things that are actually getting worse rather than better than so far, that transports sector we’ve cancelled out technological improvement through behavioral change, it’s gone in the wrong direction. So fixing that it’s not going to be easy.

The average lifespan of a car is about 15 years. So even if we were to ban the sale of petrol diesel vehicles on Monday morning, we’d still have this big wash through of the existing vehicles in the fleet and are increasingly polluting in recent years. And so it’s not something we can change overnight unless we have drastic regulation. I don’t think anybody’s actually proposing. So it’s a bit of a myth to say that the transfer from internal combustion engine vehicles through electric or hydrogen, the ones that’s going to do what we need. We simply can’t do it fast enough. And that’s setting aside a whole series of debates about whether there are enough minerals to build that many batteries and what the geopolitics of the world dependent, but it was kind of technologies will look like in simple terms, it’s too late to rely on technology and to get us out of this problem. So we are going to have to change a behavior and that starts by travelling less.

[00:06:04] Rebekah Widdowfield: How do we build support for that sort of change I think there I’m sure a section of the community that think if we move to electric cars, that is the solution that we’re doing our bit. So how do we get what I think what you’re talking about is quite a transformational change in the way we live our lives.

[00:06:21] Iain Docherty: So one of the things that categorises the transport sector is it’s one of those domains in economic and social life where inequality plays out, probably as obviously in an any other. So, I call what you’ve just spoken about that. My next BMW being an electric one fallacy, because people think that that’s all we needed to do. But those people are actually quite a small subset of the overall population because they own expensive cars and use them a lot. Where as lots of people in Scotland, i think like third of the population still don’t have access to a car at all anyway. So there’s this huge disparity and the life chances and the accessibility to, and to services, to education, to employment across different places in different communities is driven by how the transport system operates.

It’s like all areas of political debate I suppose about inequality and redistribution. We’ve somehow got to create a political consensus or at least enough of one that begins to shift that and does it quickly. One of the things that’s been most interesting to me observing the kind of debate and the action around COP26 rather than in the negotiations over the last couple of weeks is I think you could see the beginnings of that, and the concern about the environment, amongst younger people and they are less likely to use cars as much as older people in most places, I think you can begin to see a kind of generational shift in this, which is possibly the most important thing that we can try and harness to change opinion overall.

[00:07:49] Gordon Masterton: And a lot of it, I agree with Iain 100% and of course cities have got more opportunities for step changes in the way that we offer travel. I’ve lived in London for a number of years and they wouldn’t dream of using the private car down there because it’s not necessary Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen need to get to that same position of having a public transport system. That is good enough not require the use of a car. Scotland has its additional challenges, of course, because of the geography and the rural nature of much of Scotland and that’s a bigger challenge but the changing the behaviors of the majority of the population will be a big step forward in the majority do live in or near to our cities. So public transport networks, you can envisage being vastly improved with net zero emission buses, taking up a bigger load of the the need for transport combined with reduction in demand as we change our habits of work combined with the inner cities, much more walking.

[00:09:06] Rebekah Widdowfield: That does seem to play to what we know. And some of the behavioral science that actually a lot of behavioral change is about making it easy for people. So they’re not actually making a conscious choice. You just make it, make it easy. But how well do you think we’re sort of building climate change into our planning decisions for infrastructure at a local and national level? I’m thinking of a conversation on another podcast just the other day with Duncan McLennan and James Curran, where we were talking about the sort of notion of the 15 to 20 minute neighborhood. Now, again, that might not apply in all parts of Scotland, but is the planning of infrastructural decisions really thinking about this in a sort of systems holistic way that I think the two of you are talking about.

[00:09:42] Gordon Masterton: Probably not nearly enough Rebekah the 15 minute neighborhood in Paris for instance, 20 minute neighborhoods being talked about, and in Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland well worth looking at it will potentially result in modal shift away from some of the short journeys. I don’t think they’ll necessarily have massive impact on carbon reduction on the national scale or on the international scale of course that goes without saying but we need so many tools in the toolbox right now to make an impact on reduction in our transport emissions that anything is worthwhile developing. We just need to be trying more things more frequently, faster and accept that some of the solutions might not be enough.

Some of them will be very promising and we’ll do more of, 20 minute neighborhoods makes so much sense, especially in a post pandemic world where we learned a lot about the need for essential journeys, as opposed to discretionary journeys and the way that we shop the way that we get goods. And of course, last that’s also pushed up the delivery of products and services. To our houses which is, an issue that will, continue and needs to be addressed. Trucks are probably the most challenging of the vehicles to change into net zero emission delivery cause they’re are well away from the technology as well, short of buses and trains, for example, for getting to net zero emissions.

So we’ve got a lots of challenges yet to be faced that even the 20 minute neighborhood in its own right will not solve, but it could and should be part of the mix of solutions in a fully system or systems approach.

[00:11:47] Rebekah Widdowfield: I’m thinking about COVID cause I was going to come on to that. Is there, is there anything we can take from COVID in terms of actually the changes in mobility that we witnessed, the changes in purchasing that, are, these are just a short-term blip or do we think this will sort of, higher-order sort of longer term change I know Iain that’s an area that you’ve looked at in terms of COVID and mobility, is there something longer term or will we go back to business as usual in 6 months, a year’s time?

[00:12:13] Iain Docherty: So I’m involved in quite a large research project with University of Leeds looking at this, and we’ve done four waves of sub- interview trying to understand what’s been going on and we still don’t know. Rebekah is the answer. I think this increasing speculation, that this is going to be a really difficult winter for a whole set of reasons.

And I think a lot of people that are expecting some further entrenchment in terms of the use of public transport, as some stronger restrictions for COVID or the COVID and flu combination come in. So, we are in a situation now they only got about half the number of people using the train, and they did pre COVID then roughly 70% using the bus.

So we’ve seen an absolutely unprecedented fall in public transport usage. It’s important to say though, that what we haven’t seen really as a shift of journeys from public transport to car. What’s happened is that people are simply not making the trips they used to do by public transport. So for example, I’m a rail enthusiast been involved in industry, for years. I haven’t been in a train in Scotland for somebody like 19 months. I simply haven’t had to make those struggles. Not that I have been placing them by car trips, and you could see that repeated all across the economy. It’s the city center white collar office economies that the public transport network increasingly over the last 20 years, has kind of reorientated to serve best that have suffered more student COVID. So that’s problematic in itself for obvious reasons, but it also means there’s a massive financial gap in terms of the public support. That’s going to be required to keep the network in some state going into what able to rebuild patrinage because as Gordon says, we can’t get to net zero or there’s no realistic pathway to achieve that without a much greater than more intensive use of the public transport networks that we have already got.

[00:14:00] Gordon Masterton: And I think there is a COVID anxiety about taking decisions to use public transport. Some people have to, in any event as their, only as the only means of travel, I have traveled by train and since the lockdown eased, but I’ve chosen it for trips to London, I’ve chosen the sleeper because I’m in a pod it cost me a lot more. I can afford to do that. But that’s not a solution for everybody that has the discretion to do and it’ll take a while. But all of the transport modeling forecasts of course have been built and were created in a pre COVID world. But we’ve been following the increasing demand and the increasing success of rail as a means of moving large volumes of people very effectively. And I think it is early, someone once said it’s really hard to make predictions, especially about the future. And we’re in that interesting territory where we don’t really know what the longer term, even the medium term impacts of the pandemic are likely to be on the transport sector where people like Iain and others are researching and getting live data. One good thing about information technology nowadays is we can analyse data far more effectively, far larger scale, and far quicker than we used to be able to. So we should be able to see trends and emerging quite quickly as we’ve come out of that, we can less hope pandemic, anxiety.

[00:15:46] Iain Docherty: And it’s a couple of things that I think we do know already that I find really disappointing. So you probably remember that there was actually a lot of optimism about the potential for increased walking and cycling and hard lockdown that we had in 2020. And there was a bit of an increase in both. And we do not actually know how much, because we don’t measure how much people walk very accurately . So that’s a bit of a problem, but I’m really disappointed that we are. Starting to see quite a few of the pop-up walking and cycling schemes that were about reallocating there own space away from cars that had to travel. They are beginning to be taken out in various places across Scotland. And I think that’s, that’s absolutely the wrong message.

Particularly, if you look at when people are using their cars there, isn’t a kind of horns of the peak. To anything like the previous extent and until quite recently, actually the busiest time of day on the roads and even for public transport to move to the early afternoon or lunchtime. And that does suggest that once the people are making kind of discretionary trips in their cars, because they are at home, they’re not starting at an office.

So, I look at the window at mine it hasn’t gone anywhere, but I could hop in it and do various things. If I wanted to because I’m working at a home and not from the office. So I think, there’s more to be explored there. The other thing of course that’s happened is that van traffic is there significantly above pre pandemic levels in those places.

And some estimates have got light on traffic as 115, 120% of what we’ve seen in 2019. And that of course is driven by all of us on devices like this going buy now when we are surfing the web and looking at Amazon and the background and whatever meeting we are listening into , there are habits that were quietly embedding in people’s everyday lives are actually potentially really negative in terms of the de-carbonisation trajectory. And as yet it hasn’t made it into the public debate. And I find that quite concerning.

[00:17:41] Gordon Masterton: And trucks and vans are probably the furthest behind in terms of transitioning to net zero fuels in means of proportion.

[00:17:54] Iain Docherty: And something else we haven’t really talked about regulation kind of flip side of all of the behavioral conversation, if I go onto Amazon and other websites that available, but let’s use the one that people use most as an example, and I have a basket of half of different items I could have four to five different banks and different companies delivering those things to me and so we don’t have effective regulation for the internet retailing world that we now inhabit. And the carbon impacts of about one change are really very substantial.

[00:18:25] Rebekah Widdowfield: Can you see that coming? There’s obviously been a lot of talk about regulating social media and a more regulatory approach to other things. Can you see that sort of regulation coming in at any point?

[00:18:34] Iain Docherty: Well, there was the beginnings of that conversation. So transport for London and one of its consultations about the future of freight and London, I think about three or four years ago now. Raised the possibility of somehow regulating private deliveries from light vans and TFL were particularly worried about it, because of course at that point, people were ordering stuff online for collection and their offices in central London.

So there was the problem that a lot of the good work of congestion charging could have been undone by all that van traffic and the howls of protest that has to be said when that idea was floated in that TFL document was really quite substantial. And again, there’s another thing we could talk about the war on the motorist. There was those voices in the debate that seek to minimise the regulation of transport. Always seem to get very loud coverage in the media, despite the fact they may not be as representative as you may think. So we are in a classic problem here, that regulatory change is really slow and I’d often, far too slow to respond to market innovation of course, the point of regulation is to try and minimise the externalities through the result from market activity. But I really worry that it could become so used to being able to have things delivered to is almost on demand. So many TV adverts around Christmas, about same day delivery from your favorite website and even delivery of food in the next hour from your local supermarket. So we’re creating is kind of on demand culture, which to suggest more and more and transport rather than legs.

[00:20:04] Rebekah Widdowfield: That doesn’t seem to be a conversation that’s hugely happening I am just thinking I don’t have a car. But I do get a supermarket delivery cause I live at the top of a hill and it’s difficult to do that travel and I order other things online, but it’s difficult to sort of get a sense of your carbon impact and really necessarily know what to do for the best and what the trade off’s are how can we make that easier for people. I know in the past they’ve been talk about carbon budgets and there’s obviously various carbon tools that you can look at, particularly when, if you’re taking a flight, but how do we sort of get a better understanding as individuals about our carbon impact in a way in which we can minimise it, given that so much of this at the end of the day will come down to us and how we live our lives.

[00:20:46] Iain Docherty: Couple of answers to that one of them is the kind of let’s see the bottom up the behavioral, or even the nudge idea, which is about. Giving people more information, but the real impacts of the choices and that kind of over time, you begin to change them. So, you know the problem there of course, how much time you’ve got left. I think what’s interesting. And what you can piece together, from recent trends is that if you try and persuade people to change their transport habits and practices for reasons other than transport or carbon you might have better luck. So one little piece of evidence and site in respect of that is that the big boom in cycling that we had it’s the x-bike in the first lockdown wasn’t about people using the bike to get to work, they weren’t working in an office. It was, they felt, this is a really good use of my leisure time. And a lot of people quite like, the health and wellbeing benefits they got from being more active. So it’s, it’s kinda reasonably well established in the transport behavior literature that focusing on the individual’s health and wellbeing benefits is a good way to get into taking different transport choices. The problem of course, is that we need so much more of that so much more quickly than we planned for in the past. But I have doubts about whether that’s, much of a meaningful stuff to given the pace of change that we now need, which I’m afraid and maybe this my displaced preferences or prejudices, but, I think it’s a bit like smoking the times come from regulation. We’ve asked people nicely to change what they do for a long time, but we’ve actually got to start to force behavior change. And really interesting to me, the Scottish Government has looked at the evidence about how really to reduce car use and come up with this target to reduce the overall number of car kilometers in Scotland by 20% over a decade.

That’s a much bigger and more fundamental behavior shift in transport that we’ve seen for decades. Really pleased. They’ve done that. I’m going to be very interested to see how they actually go about implementing it, because I think it means one or both of two things, one is a lot of road space reallocations with taking space away from the car and was just, we knew it was already problematic or two more interesting / exciting road pricing.

[00:22:59] Gordon Masterton: Absolutely Iain and I think my bugbear about the concentration of effort and all government, so far and COP26 is no exemption it is all about setting targets and a target isn’t a plan and the lack of substance at the next tier of delivering to a target is something that is a concern, and the focus having established the target should be increasing manyfold in actually identifying credible ways of getting there. And that’s where the systems approach is really, really essential because. They would be misguided if we focused on one particular route to solution without really fully thinking through the consequential impacts on all sorts of other areas. So societal impact attention for a carbon driven divide in our society, which would be a backward step the impact on the equality, diversity opportunities. Yes we do need more active travel. That’s not an option for many people. Think of grannies picking up and doing childminding and picking up or meeting their grandchildren. I can’t really see them on their e-bikes doing that on a, on a large scale. We have to think through just from everyone’s in an empathetic way, just how we will credibly deliver behavioral changes that we need. And that was a good example earlier about the new behavior of ordering our goods online in our heads when they think, oh, I’m not getting out of the house. So I’m reducing my carbon emissions by ordering online, as opposed to going to the supermarket. But when you went to the supermarket, you had multiple goods in one return journey. Now they’re coming individually in some cases the hardware on top of the essential food supplies, you might get the food in one delivery per week, but not the other stuff.

[00:25:11] Iain Docherty: The things that come to mind more positive time, get back onto that territory. You have to understand that. As long as we’ve tried to measure these things, and this is about 150 years, actually, we don’t spend any more time traveling now than we used to do we spend roughly almost exactly the same amount of time traveling to do the same thing.

So we travel to go to work, we travel to access essential services, food, shopping, healthcare, with travel, for education, and we travel to see each other to care for others. What transport technology has enabled us to do is to travel further, to do the same things. So actually the flip side of that is that if we decide that we need to travel a little bit less far and again, pre pandemic, there was some evidence that was beginning to happen in the groups of people that traveled most were actually beginning to travel a little bit less in terms of distance. So beginning to unwind that shouldn’t really be much of an impact of most people’s quality of life. Because it’s about how we organise as Gordon says, I know our system supports to these things and to make sure that what people need is available so they don’t have to travel as far. And that to me is where just to come back to the point about 15 or 20 minute neighborhoods, I think is so important, but yet, so challenging.

So first of all, most people in Scotland, the vast majority live in places that can be 15 or 20 minute neighborhoods and interestingly this is even true in rural Scotland. Most people in rural Scotland live in small towns and small towns are the perfect 15 to 20 minute neighborhoods. What we’ve done is that over decades of planning practice despite the rhetoric we’ve hollowed them out so that the standard small town now is the center given over to surface car parking. And the fringe has given over to supermarkets with even more surface car parking. So we hollowed them out, we’ve all got our own examples of places we know well in Scotland or the towns or city centre’s is really struggling. And that’s because. We have moved the economy around by what we’ve done with the transport network, we have reduced the attractiveness of centers and made peripheral locations so much more attractive to more people, because we’ve planned them to be like that, frankly, and we’ve made them easier to access by car so we can reverse that. I don’t underestimate how politically tricky that’s going to be though. So if you look at again, where have we been building housing for the last 40 years by and large, it’s a pretty low density developments, usually on the fringes of existing places, they are going to be actually quite hard to retrofit, but somehow we’ve got to do it.

And the final thing I’d say about active travel is Gordon is right? One of the problems about ever having this debate about transport behaviors and choices is that one, people feel really reticent about others telling them what to do, and that’s true in all kinds of areas of public policy. We understand that. But the other thing is that not everything has to change for everybody. We all have to make some changes, but there’ll be different for different individuals in different places. And that this could be provocative. I’m known as being a bit of a cycling skeptic. I really do wonder that the focus that we have on cycling and cycling infrastructure as kind of dominates the debate when I have to travel.

So I’m not offered a moment to say that we do need to more of it, but walking is so much more accessible to so many more people can change the performance of local neighborhoods and local services really quickly. And many more of us despite our health challenges or age or whatever many, many more of us are able to do a little bit more walking into our lifestyles to help us access things more sustainably and also be healthier.

So for me making it easier simply to walk around is the most important thing we can do to help this debate move along.

[00:29:04] Rebekah Widdowfield: Let’s go for a walk around the cyclists. I concur with everything your saying you talk there about actually the challenge of the change that’s required and the sort of political terms. But I guess there’s also quite a practical change. If you’re talking about revolutionising some of the current infrastructure and going back to what’s being hollowed out and replacing it if you like. At the same time we know from the conversations going on at COP26, at the moment that actually we haven’t got a lot of time. So how do you square that circle of the lead in time, the time for infrastructural development and that sort of real urgency of where we are now. Gordon, you’re looking at future infrastructures. What can you offer by way of a hope and a way forward.

[00:29:48] Gordon Masterton: There are lots of things that can be done right now. Look at the rail sector in the UK where we’ve still only electrified 38% of the UK rail passenger rail network. and that’s really poor, missed opportunity to date. So, eliminating progressively and more quickly accelerating the program for electrification of the railway to get that to as close to a hundred percent as we can, as quickly as possible. Seems like net zero emission buses are not new technology now there are plenty of solutions out there. Some interesting variations on the theme, of course, from electric hydrogen in Aberdeen these can be delivered at scale quite quickly. The markets there already we could do with more capability in Scotland, to be able to take up the opportunities to respond to those markets. Of course, that’s another issue but the harder areas to then transform our trucks and vans, the delivery HGV’s that’s not yet anywhere near got a clear route to what is the preferred solution, but where is the market really shifting and changing. So I’m a bit more pessimistic about that, but the effort there needs to be on increasing research and development. In a big way and not just in an incremental way as part of our trouble too, is that we recognise we set targets. We recognise that there are plans for the future.

Then we fold our arms and say technology or some of these and deliver and there will be a silver bullet that comes from nowhere that’s no plan that’s just not going to have a high likelihood of success. So let’s not rely on the, as yet unproven new technologies like Hyperloop and ideas like that keep them coming, yes and there may be some serious advantages that are coming out of these developments. But there’s so much that can be done right now. At scale if we really set our minds to doing so.

[00:32:17] Rebekah Widdowfield: What for you are the main barriers for that then, you’ve given a whole number of things there that could be done now why aren’t they being done now ?

[00:32:26] Gordon Masterton: Well, it starts with the leadership commitment in public transport., it’s mainly public transport where we’re talking about that’s controlled by government forces, whether it’s through the incentives to the market or naturally controlled and owned by government, more challenging of course, for changing people’s behaviors. But if you transform public transport you will get more people choosing to use that than relying on on their own car as many journeys as they currently do. Iain’s made a good point about also educating us about the benefits and the health benefits and the mobility benefits of walking, perhaps cycling for those who can and choose as well I suppose you wouldn’t want to go backwards on that, but it may be that we’ve over estimated the benefits of the attractiveness of cycling as a major transformation. But let’s model the systems and see, we don’t do enough of that either. There isn’t enough, not enough people that have got full competence and beneath and be able to do systems modeling at scale on scenario testing of future options.

Combination of current mistakes for legislation and education and encouragement. People inherently want to do the right thing. And there’s a huge buildup of goodwill towards identifying what can we, as individuals do in our bit to save the planet. Huge goodwill there. So let’s tap into that for explaining to people the choices that they have and are able to make right now; in transport and understanding the consequences of those as well. So there are many things, it’s a systems problem. It needs multiple approaches in order to touch all the necessary basis. And it needs to be program managed with an iron fist because we don’t have much time.

[00:34:35] Iain Docherty: I think this is what I would disagree with Gordon a little bit about the balance sheet characteristics. So a couple of things, first of all, I subscribed to the backseat that we get the politicians we deserve and frankly, as a society, we haven’t taken these issues seriously enough, whether that’s the impact of how we travel around …, which of course is becoming more and more from the center of the debate. But actually we haven’t really thought very much about the impacts of what we were speaking about earlier on in terms of the inequality that the transport system represents, which we haven’t debated that properly. What politicians tend to do of course is that for obvious reasons, carrots are much more palatable than sticks.

So it’s lovely to be able to stand and cut a ribbon on a new public transport scheme, rather than it is put priced parking up. But for me, at least I think we know it’s one of those is actually more effective. So, my view is if we’re going to meet our targets, given how long it takes to do a lot of the things that we’ve spoken about to build new infrastructure, particularly we’re going to have simply reduce them. The amount of people travel by car. And the only way we can do that quickly and effectively is to make it more expensive that of course then opens up another debate about equity people that have been round this loop like me a few times in the Edinburgh congestion charges referendum or,other examples of that we’ll know about that the kind of squeals of protests that happened whenever you begin to talk about with these policy interventions, but one they work to the road network is the only core infrastructure we have that we don’t charge people to use at the point of use. So that should be telling us something. I think about whether that’s the right decision or not, and finally, I think most importantly is we have a really I’m tempted to use the words, crass public debate about fairness when it comes to pricing. So everybody immediately says if you had have no charging then that’s going to be unfair and who’s it going to be unfair on a third of people in Scotland don’t have access to car and are dependent on worsening public transport services. And if we want to improve that somebody has to pay for it. And to me, at least two things, one, the people that can afford to pay more should pay more and the polluter pays, or at least they should. So to me a well-designed, national road charging scheme has to happen and is the only way we can generate enough direct behavioral shifts, it’s the only way we can probably find the resources to do what we need to do in public transport. And then the short term, that’s a vastly improved bus system because we can deliver that quickly and make a step change in the capacity of the network in lots of places. And finally, one of the consequences of phasing out fossil fuel powered vehicles over time, of course, is the existing tax revenue structured is based around taxing those fuels through GT directly on the VAT, on our wherever. So the treasury is at some point, and I think very soon going to want to have an alternative revenue stream to replace those revenues that will be lost to the system so pricing is coming and we should have a debate about the right kind of pricing and start it soon.

[00:37:48] Gordon Masterton: I don’t disagree it is a part of the complex system of systems that we have to have and congestion charging our carbon tax. And there’s inevitably got to be one of the tools in the toolbox, maybe you’re right. It’s probably the biggest tool in the toolbox in terms of driving behavioral changes. But bear in mind too. We’ve also got the issue of domestic heating that’s running in parallel and the cost of delivering that transformational change has got to be born in mind in terms of household affordability. And it’s going to be challenging. And we probably were paying nothing like enough for either mobility or a comfortable homes at the moment. And the balance of priorities is possibly, probably going to have to change.

[00:38:40] Iain Docherty: We could have several of these podcasts of about why we have got into that state and why the UK seems to be so uniquely bad at capital investment and keeping its capital stock and infrastructure up to date and minimising some of these things. But yeah, the scale of the problem is really difficult. But again, one thing about the transport sector is that think unlike domestic we’re not quite sure how we’re going to manage that, given a lot of the technological problems that we inherited building stock that Scotland has we know what we need to do in transport. And we know how to do it. It’s not actually as if the technologies are not there, the bus in their shoe leather by and large. So if we are able to change the regulatory frameworks, It’s not a technology that we need that we don’t have yet it’s the key to all of this. It’s about behavior change. It’s about doing some more of what we all need to.

[00:39:30] Rebekah Widdowfield: I was going to ask, actually looking across the world. Is there anywhere that you would point to is saying, well, they are making the hard choices they are doing this, doing this well, because it’s a must be a shared global challenge in terms of mobility, particularly else in the developed world.

[00:39:46] Iain Docherty: That’s a really interesting question. I think the answer to that is that there isn’t anywhere yet doing anything like enough and Gordon, made the really important point earlier on that we have to do more of everything, no matter how hard that is, we just have to get on and do stuff we know works. I can’t think of anywhere that’s doing all of that.

So you can find, you can find examples of places which are doing individual elements really well. So well-known examples are Norway, amazing shift away from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles, far in advanced of just about anywhere else, but, well, partly that’s because, Norwegian consumers are rather well off by and large the government is able to support that transition. But then again, what difference is that going to make, to Norways carbon ommissions given its continued production in oil and gas. So, the green washing point I think that many activists make is well-made there, the Netherlands of course is always talked about as being this paradigm of sustainable transport. Well there carbon emissions from transport are just about as bad as ours. So despite all of that cycling, they have actually, they have more of everything. So the carbon footprint of transport in the Netherlands is just as bad.

They haven’t, they haven’t cracked that one and Paris, the absolute poster child of model shift from cars to bikes now. And as it’s undeniable that’s made Paris a better place to be in, but actually that’s only very dense center in the middle, the suburban areas in the corner, basically where two thirds, three quarters of the people in the other regions live it’s just as bad as ever because they are all car dependent.

So what difference does it make to the overall outcome? These things are really tough when you can point to individual sectoral examples of best practice of excellent, but nobody’s cracked doing it all yet.

[00:41:41] Gordon Masterton: And we need to be mindful to us now it’s by no means that that will have the biggest impact, but Scotland is a rural and also an island community. And we do have other essential services and probably essential journalists from, from ferries to consider to and decarbonising those as a another, objective. But the biggest impact will be land based buses, cars, trains and transforming the use of those and the fuel and the energy that used to drive them.

And I don’t think anyone has got yet the perfect model that I’ve seen out there and every country is different anyway, because we do have different drivers, different values and different histories as well most of us come from carbon, the first capitalism, and we need to be driving it towards the antithesis of that, which is carbon conscious futures, which will still require capital and the means of support at a population wide level.

[00:42:56] Rebekah Widdowfield: It has been quite a pessimistic broadcast, to use Iain’s phrase earlier in terms we clearly have got a real challenge emissions are high they are not reducing behaviors are potentially going to drive them further up rather than down.

But I guess I take heart a little bit from that we know how to do it. Which you’ve said, so looking a bit more positively to future in there’s a lot of debate in cop about the next 10 years. Where would you like to see us be in 10 years time, if we’re having a second podcast in 10 years, what would you like to be able to say to me in terms of, well, how are things different now? What’s changed God and what for you?

[00:43:37] Gordon Masterton: Yeah, that’s a good question. Cause that, so will be a key success indicator will be where we are on the journey and where we’ve been on the journey for the last 30 years is level, level pegging we’ve made absolutely no impact in the transport sector, neither in Scotland, nor in the UK as a whole.

And some of the solutions of course are beyond the boundaries. Part of our system is the systems that we are dependent on HGVs trucks are traveling in and out of Scotland to the rest of Europe, certainly to the rest of the UK on very large scale. So we can’t solve,, we’re not masters of our own destiny, a hundred percent, but nevertheless, we’re a nation that needs to be and wants to be, seem to be leading in the messaging that we’re putting out. So we are, and we must become leaders in reducing transport emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, and we seem to have made some over the next 10 years I think buses have got a massive role to play.

I’d love to see electrified rail is significantly have changed from 30% I don’t know where the credible number is in the 10 year period these things do take time, at least inroads into the proportion that we have electrified and also considering sensible and serious investigations of, for instance, metro systems and light rails systems, that can deal with the movement of people where that’s still part of the economic mix and needs to be in order to avoid the use of the private car and seeing a real serious commitment and the way that we measure them and incentivise those having changed in order to give confidence for the subsequent ten-year period, that this is a trend that isn’t just a blip it’s a trend but we’ll never reverse credibly, never reverse. Those are quite difficult, to deliver those are the drivers that we need to be seen confident reductions that have got a confident route towards continuing to a net zero sensible target and that’s the substance behind the targets that is important and the demonstration of having reverse this current trend of no improvements in 30 years and to very serious improvements over the next 10, and as Iain said we can do with a serious commitment and the mix of the fiscal measures, the legislative measures and the behavioral change education, all of these things and others, we might have chance.

[00:46:42] Iain Docherty: I think the point that Gordon makes there about having that trajectory establishes a really important one. I remember a lot of our milestone targets for 2030, and I actually probably stiffer to meet than the 2045 net zero target. Everybody focuses on, especially in transport because we’ve gone nowhere in 30 years. So where I would like us to be I will rephrase by saying where I think we must be as a bare minimum. And I think we must’ve done the simple things that we know work. So we must change the way we pay for transport, which means we must price car travel differently because I don’t think unless we do that, we can unlock any of the change that we need and we must make public transport easier to use.

And that means investment in the quality of the vehicles. It means more robust and reliable and frequent service in most places. And crucially, I think it means a proper national integrated ticketing scheme that we’ve talked about for decades and we haven’t delivered best example of that. Recently is in Austria really ruled out the flats season ticket idea that’s been in place in Vienna for a while to the whole country. So we need to make progress to that. I don’t have capacity issues about how we provide enough services to the cope with the demand that that would lead to but we’ve got to crack that and we do it. And I think we have to get out every day, active travel and proportionate up.

That means both walking and cycling, but I think it means in particular walking because that’s what the acid test but whether we’ve been begun to move towards genuinely 15 or 20 minutes, and the neighborhoods will be about if more people really are walking, that means that they’re accessing their everyday needs, the famous pint of milk question without recourse looks mototrised transport and that’s exactly the kind of thing that is the kind of key tests whether we are serious about this or not.

[00:48:42] Rebekah Widdowfield: Professor Masterton and Professor Docherty thank you so much for sparing your time today to share your expertise and experience on transport mobility and climate change, thank

[00:48:52] Gordon Masterton: you.


Thank you Rebekah it’s been a pleasure.

[00:48:59] Rebekah Widdowfield: Thanks for listening. You can find previous TN talk episodes on our website or you can subscribe on Spotify, apple, and Google podcasts for our latest news details, events and activities. Search for the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.