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‘Greater clarity’ required on Scots Transport Bill

Words: Laura Edgar
Buses / iStock-157728704

A call has been made for greater clarity on how a number of proposals in Scotland’s Transport Bill will work in practice – including Low Emission Zones (LEZ) and addressing the decline of bus use.

Edward Mountain, convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, said that although the committee supports the general principles of the bill, “greater clarity is required on a number of issues as the bill continues its parliamentary passage”.

In its stage 1 report, the committee found that for LEZ to be a success, improvements are required to the provision of public transport and park-and-ride facilities.

It recommends that the Scottish Government should set a national minimal technical emissions standard for vehicles that enter a LEZ.

The committee thinks the bill should include a “clear definition” of what an LEZ is, and what its objectives should be. An amendment on this should be brought forward at stage 2.

Gavin Thomson, air pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “It’s great to see this parliamentary committee recognising the importance of low-emission zones to tackle air pollution.

“However, it’s disappointing that they didn’t address the desperately slow timetable for these zones. The current version of the bill could mean zones wouldn't be fully implemented until 2026, meaning people having to wait another seven years for clean air.”

The transport bill covers five areas in addition to LEZ, including bus services and smart ticketing. Bus services are in decline: the committee cites the reduction of direct bus support in rural areas, and congestion and a lack of appropriate infrastructure in some urban area as contributing to the decline. But the provisions proposed in the bill, says the committee, are “unlikely to make a marked difference in arresting the decline in bus patronage”.

The committee thinks the requirement that local authorities will only be able to provide bus services if they are to fulfil “an unmet public transport need” creates an unnecessary restriction.

It recommends that the Scottish Government should bring forward a stage 2 amendment to remove this restriction and allow local authorities greater flexibility in their ability to provide local bus services. Additionally, the Scottish Government should provide additional information on how it expects the provisions that will allow councils to run bus services to operate in practice and to indicate what guidance and support will be available to them “to ensure that they do not fall foul of competition law”.

Thomson added: “Buses are key to improving air quality. If we can make the bus network more accessible, affordable, and accountable, we can take cars off the road. People will use public transport if it is convenient for them. The committee are encouraging the Scottish Government to consider giving councils more powers to regulate services and run their own buses. This would be a great step forward. The current model for buses is not working, having lost 99 million passenger journeys in the last 10 years.”

The full report can be found here on the Scottish Parliament website.

Image credit | iStock