3. To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the targets set out in the Queensferry crossing public transport strategy, what its response is to reports that, in the last year, over 1 million extra vehicle journeys have been made over the crossing. (S5T-01904)
Like the Forth road bridge, the Queensferry crossing has two running lanes for traffic. As a result of the hard shoulders and wind shielding, it provides a more reliable and resilient crossing. The Scottish Government has invested in the public transport corridor using the Forth road bridge, including park and ride and bus lanes, with journey time savings for buses being realised versus car travel at peak times between Fife and Edinburgh. We are committed to sustainable transport and encouraging greater use of public transport, as highlighted in our draft national transport strategy and this year’s programme for government.
IAM RoadSmart said that those figures are
“indicative of a failure of Scottish Government transport policy to reduce car use”.
Those are its words, not mine.
We are now 10 years on from the publication of the public transport strategy, but only five of the 18 recommendations have been delivered. When can we expect the full review of the strategy to be completed and actions to be delivered? Will commuters be hanging around for another two decades?
The member will recognise that the Government has made progress on a number of areas in the strategy. Those include the provisions that we have made in the city region deal for Edinburgh and Fife, which will see £20 million of additional investment going into transport infrastructure in the west of the city. I also recently announced £70 million to be invested in the reopening of the Levenmouth railway line, which will connect Levenmouth back into the Fife circle and will improve rail connectivity and public transport for a significant number of people who live in Fife. As we have set out in the draft national transport strategy, the Government intends to take forward a range of other measures once the strategy is complete and in place.
I recognise that there is more for us to do, but I assure the member that the Government is committed to introducing a range of measures to reduce car use and improve the provision of public transport.
I would like to focus on the actions that have not been delivered. One action from the strategy that is still outstanding is to give commuters a genuine rail choice through a park-and-ride facility at Rosyth. It has been granted planning permission, it is a strategic priority for Government and it is in the strategic transport projects review, so why has it not yet been funded and built?
As is the case with a range of matters in STPR2, there are competing demands for financial provision to be made. Issues that are not addressed in the STPR1 process will roll over into STPR2 and can be considered within the next STPR planning period. The issue that has been highlighted, which has not been delivered as yet, will be considered as part of STPR2.
The member will be aware of an incident in March 2018 in which a combination of unusual weather circumstances resulted in ice forming on some of the cables of the Queensferry crossing. That was unusual for such a structure and formed because of the weather at that particular time. The expert advice that has been provided to Transport Scotland is that a number of measures can be put in place to monitor the situation more closely. That work is currently out to procurement, with a view to having the appropriate measures in place in the near future.
Transport remains Scotland’s most polluting sector, responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions but, last year, car use increased while rail use flatlined and bus passenger numbers continued to plummet. Will the cabinet secretary tell us whether the Scottish Government is working towards an overall target to reduce car usage and, if so, what that target is?
I am sure that the irony is not lost on members that the party that so strongly opposed the workplace parking levy is now demanding that the Government take action on reducing car use on our road network. Neither will the contradiction in Labour’s position on such issues be lost on members, given Mr Smyth’s frequent demands that we build more roads in the south-west of Scotland, which are surely for car use.
I assure Mr Smyth that the Government is progressing a range of measures, including almost £5 billion-worth of investment in rail transport in Scotland in the next control period. Alongside that, we are making the biggest investment in bus prioritisation in the past two decades by committing some £500 million towards that to help to improve bus patronage.
In our draft national transport strategy, we have set out the hierarchy of approaches that we will take in future investment towards achieving our priority, which is to encourage greater use of public transport.
One of the benefits that comes from the public transport corridor across the Forth road bridge is that it provides a quicker and much more efficient link between Fife and Edinburgh for buses and taxis. That can be seen from the fact that bus and taxi journey times have been reduced for vehicles crossing from Edinburgh towards Fife and for those crossing in the opposite direction. We need to make greater use of the benefits that come from such reductions. At present, in the region of 500 buses now use the Forth road bridge public transport corridor daily, and we want to build on that to make greater use of public transport across the Forth.
I am surprised that Edward Mountain, as the convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, is not aware of that, given that we have already set out the snagging works that will be completed and that the contractor expects to complete them by the end of this year, although some of the work is weather related.
As I have always said, I will keep the committee up to date on those issues.
Edward Mountain will understand that an evaluation of the performance of any such major infrastructure project is undertaken at year 1, year 3 and year 5. The year 1 evaluation initial work has already started, which will give us an understanding of the progress that has been made, the use of the bridge and how it is performing. That exercise will be repeated at year 3 and year 5, so that we have a good overall view of the bridge’s performance and the benefits that are coming from such a major piece of infrastructure.