Public Transport Passengers (Major Events)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 5 September 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

7. To ask the Scottish Government how it manages increased passenger numbers on public transport during major events. (S5O-03487)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Transport Scotland works closely with public transport providers and relevant stakeholders to ensure that public transport provision for major events reflects anticipated demand, and that the disruptive impact on business-as-usual travel is mitigated when possible. The work is reflected in groups that bring together various transport providers that operate across a range of modes, including bus, rail and taxi, to discuss issues and ensure that any challenges that are identified are addressed. Through those groups, partnership working is taken forward in a number of areas to look at how transport provision for major events can be improved.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

As the cabinet secretary will be aware, the widespread disruption on ScotRail on 24 August coincided with various major events in Edinburgh. It caused chaos for my constituents, some of whom faced very expensive taxi journeys home. Others were forced to squeeze on to trains of just two carriages. One rail traveller said that the train that they were on was “dangerously overcrowded” and that somebody could have been seriously injured.

I have two questions. First, how will the transport secretary ensure that, before major events, proper planning and preparation are executed in order to anticipate demand and avoid overcrowding? It is clear that such work is not being done at the moment, even with the focus groups.

Secondly—this is an issue that members will have read about in today’s newspapers—what is the Scottish Government’s opinion on whether Haymarket and Waverley should both remain open during multiple major events?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Rachael Hamilton raises a very reasonable point. What happened on 24 August was unacceptable and is a matter that we are considering very seriously. We have made it clear to ScotRail and the other agencies that what happened was unacceptable.

As Rachael Hamilton will be aware, a review is being carried out in the rail industry to identify what went wrong and what actions can be taken to prevent difficulties such as those that were experienced on 24 August. I will see the details of that review once it has been completed, at which point I will consider what action should be taken to implement any recommendations that are made about how we can deal with such situations more effectively.

That said, it is important to recognise that, across the board, our transport network plans and manages major events well. The Commonwealth games is a good example of a major event that was managed well. Major events take place across the country at various times, and, by and large, they are managed well.

However, there are a number of factors relating to the events on 24 August that need to be addressed. The member mentioned the question whether Haymarket station should be closed on such occasions, with all passengers being put through Waverley. It is quite common for the approach to be used in other parts of the United Kingdom, with the train station that is closest to the major event being closed so that a queuing system can be put in place. The use of a train station that is slightly further away enables crowds to be managed more readily.

Before we get to that point, there is a wider issue that needs to be addressed, which is the holding of a major rugby international and a Hibs home game on the last day of the Edinburgh festival, during an English bank holiday, when visitor numbers in Edinburgh would already have been higher. There is only so much that the system can cope with. We need to address the wider issue of how we make sure that, when it comes to managing major events, we look at the wider situation. After the review has been carried out of what happened on the rail side of things, I want to look at that wider issue of how such situations are managed and the decision-making process that is involved. Transport Scotland officials have already engaged with the City of Edinburgh Council and other parties to explore that issue. It is important not only that we take the matter seriously and that we get to the bottom of what happened on 24 August, but that we look at the wider issue and make sure that we manage such situations more effectively in the future.