The Scottish Government’s Transport Bill is facing delays as a result of Brexit and the recently announced workplace parking levy. While Holyrood is in recess, Natalie Mauchline examines Scotland’s big transport issues.
Workplace Parking Levy
One of the most controversial Budget announcements has been the workplace parking levy, which was agreed by the SNP in return for the Greens’ support. The levy would impose an annual tax for every parking space provided by employers, with small firms of ten employees or less and NHS workers being exempt. It was agreed it would be lodged in the form of an amendment to the Transport Bill, which is being scrutinised at Stage 1, and it would be at the discretion of local authorities to impose it. Last week, the Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee revealed that the Transport Bill was being delayed. While this was put down to a lack of manpower within Government to process a Bill of such magnitude on top of Brexit-related legislation, it has been suggested the levy played a factor in the decision. Many members of the Committee also made the case that the workplace parking levy amendment had not been fully developed therefore further discussion was needed prior to the Bill moving to Stage 2. This led to an agreement that the Committee’s Stage 1 report would be delayed until evidence on the levy was heard. Opposing parties have continued to criticise the policy for the additional burden it would place on drivers and for its inability to fight air pollution.
Glasgow Airport Link
Plans for a rail link connecting the centre of Glasgow with the airport have been set aside again. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport & Connectivity, Michael Matheson, said in a statement last week that an independent audit concluded the construction of a full tram-train system would negatively affect other rail services from Glasgow Central to Inverclyde, Ayrshire and East Kilbride. An alternative has been proposed in the form of a personal rapid transit system between the airport and Paisley, like the system in use at Heathrow Terminal 5. However, these plans have not been well received by campaigners. Johann Lamont responded to the new plans with anger, demanding an apology from Ministers to the people of Glasgow and Parliament. Jamie Greene and other MSPs said it was unacceptable that Glasgow Airport continued to lag behind, which would damage Glasgow’s economy in the long term. Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce accused Transport Scotland of “being asleep at the wheel” as congestion on the M8 worsens and Central Station constraints grow.
Encouraging Bus Links
Lastly, there were hopes the Transport Bill could tackle the dwindling use of buses, following a 10% decline over the last five years. A Citizens Advice Scotland survey highlighted concerns from passengers which included frequency, punctuality, safety and value for money. The Transport Bill will allow local councils to fill the gaps left by commercial providers with their own routes. Last October, there were growing calls for public ownership of bus companies as private companies had previously failed to deliver quality services. The then Transport Minister, Humza Yousef, argued for a partnership between local authorities and private companies to improve services. While there were high aspirations for the Bill to reinvigorate the use of buses, so far it seems to have fallen short. Both Labour and the Greens have expressed support for a system similar to the publicly-owned Lothian Buses. Both have argued the Transport Bill doesn’t go far enough as ticket prices for privately-run services continue to increase and services continue to fall short of demand. Other proposals from Labour included tighter rules on consultation before routes were changed, lifting the age of concessionary travel for young people and a guarantee that the free bus pass for the over 60s would continue. Not all these proposals have been taken on board by the Scottish Government, sparking anger from opposing parties who had hoped for more from the Transport Bill.