Jamie Greene: Transport policy stuck in first gear

The big ticket projects such as the Queensferry Crossinggrab the headlines, but it is the everyday that matters to people
The big ticket projects such as the Queensferry Crossinggrab the headlines, but it is the everyday that matters to people
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Transport is one of those emotive subjects in politics. Nothing much is said when it runs smoothly but all hell breaks loose when it doesn’t.

The opening of the impressive Queensferry Crossing has understandably dominated the headlines in recent weeks when it comes to issues of connectivity. It is a marvel; I do not deny it.

Jamie Greene is Scottish Conservative transport spokesman

Jamie Greene is Scottish Conservative transport spokesman

Yet while ministers may be busy giving themselves pats on the back for its formal unveiling, notwithstanding the predictable congestion teething problems we’re seeing this week, it would be foolish of them to think their job is done.

As well as attending the opening of the new structure, Nicola Sturgeon also unveiled her Programme for Government for the years ahead.

This was an opportunity for the SNP to set out its plans for transport projects across the country; initiatives that provide value for money for the taxpayer, improve the daily challenges for commuters, and enable better access for those who find it difficult to travel, either for mobility or financial reasons. Instead, we got tokenistic soundbites and headlines. It was a lacklustre, headline-grabbing damp squib of a plan.

There’s no question that “the west” is moving away from cars powered by petrol or diesel. Rightfully so, I say. The industry is heading that way as it seeks to future proof a carbon-free future for cars, and both the UK and French governments outlined their intentions to ban these vehicles by 2040.

This is where the SNP government could have consulted with industry and government counterparts to see where Scotland could play a role in driving this forward.

Instead, the Nationalists have picked a random date of 2032, for no other reason than, well, to be a bit different, to try to trump card the UK government for political point-scoring purposes.

The Programme for Government also presented an opportunity on Low Emissions Zones. But instead of devising a detailed and imaginative approach on this, the First Minister merely said a pilot scheme would take place at some point, in an unspecified location, and that drivers would be punished heavily for breaching this new diktat.

Yes, we have to address pollution in our cities, but this cannot be an excuse to bulldoze through ideological top-down directives with no comprehensive consultation on the practical implementation.

Commuters also want to see more action on smart ticketing, something Scotland could be leading the way on if the SNP got its house in order. It seems bonkers than in a modern country like Scotland there is not a proper joined-up approach to ticketing across travel modes.

The big ticket projects grab the headlines, but it is the everyday that matters to folk.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf had an opportunity in this fully devolved brief to be bold and forward-thinking, solving problems for a modern country with growing transport and infrastructure needs.

Merely posing for selfies at the Queensferry Crossing doesn’t even scratch the surface of the complex long-term problems that transport presents Scotland. If he isn’t up for the task in hand, I know someone who is.

Jamie Greene is Scottish Conservative transport spokesman