When I led the Scottish Parliament’s first ever debate on cycling in 2012, I began by suggesting it is often the case that public attitudes are ahead of the policymakers responsible for representing them.
Back then, in parts of Edinburgh, up to 20 per cent of vehicles on the roads were bikes, but the picture nationally was mixed, with journeys by bike at a lowly 1 per cent.
Since the Scottish Government announced their “vision” in 2010 that ten per cent of journeys would be taken by bike by 2020, I have repeatedly asked how they will deliver this, while chronically underfunding the infrastructure necessary for such an important transformation.
Appalling as it is, it comes as no surprise given the lack of proper investment to see new figures show a 6.5 per cent drop in Scotland’s cycling rates over the past five years, now accounting for less than one per cent of estimated traffic volume, along with a staggering five per cent rise in overall transport emissions.
In response to Patrick Harvie’s question at FMQs last week, the First Minister indicated her support for making environmentally friendly transport as attractive as possible, but action to back this up is lacking.
With transport already the biggest contributor to Scotland’s air pollution health crisis, responsible for thousands of early deaths each year, transforming this sector is an urgent priority.
Greens have a long-standing policy that at least ten per cent of the transport budget should go towards walking and cycling. That would begin to redress the lack of investment in everyday local transport for the third of people who do not have access to a car, while making our streets safer, less congested, and more accessible for those with limited mobility, wheelchair users, and parents pushing buggies.
Bus use across Scotland is down 7.6 per cent over the past five years, but Lothian Buses bucks the trend, with an 8.3 per cent increase between 2012 and 2017 showing that bus services can thrive when provision is motivated by public need, rather than private profit, with many routes slashed and fares increasing rapidly.
Greens want to see a legally-binding target to increase bus passenger numbers, delivering better buses for Scotland’s communities. Alongside bringing the railways back under public ownership and increasing infrastructure investment, this will make a vital contribution to boosting passenger numbers, and cutting emissions in the transport sector.
Greens are also calling for the Climate Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament to be upgraded to a Climate Emergency Bill, with a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, and an interim target of 77 per cent reduction by 2030.
Following February’s heatwave, and watching Arthur’s Seat succumb to gorse fire, it is undeniable that we are experiencing dangerous changes in the global climate.
Ahead of the school climate strikes due to take place on March 15, not only does it remain clear that public attitudes are ahead of most current policymakers, but also that the next generation have had enough of waiting for governments to catch up.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian