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Covid-19 (Transport)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th May 2020.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I would like to provide Parliament with an update on the development of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 transport transition plan, as we begin to chart the route map through and out of the crisis that was outlined by the First Minister last Thursday.

I reiterate my thanks to the people of Scotland, who have heeded the Government’s advice not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. Their following of that advice is what has allowed us to set out the first iteration of the transport plan today.

However, the virus is still with us, and if we move too quickly or without appropriate diligence, it could rapidly run out of control again. In that context, our transport transition plan must be dynamic and capable of evolving as lockdown measures are gradually eased. It will be intrinsically linked to the plans for reopening our schools and for economic recovery that will be set out to Parliament later this afternoon. Our transport transition plan will present a careful and measured approach to a fluid situation in which we must continue to adopt the behaviours that have brought us to this point.

Scotland is planning for a managed transition away from the current restrictions in a way that will enable suppression of the virus to continue. The Scottish Government is taking an open and transparent approach to that, in line with the proposition that was initially set out in “COVID-19—A Framework for Decision Making”, which was published last month and has now been set out in the First Minister’s “Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making—Scotland's route map through and out of the crisis”.

We are now moving towards phase 1 of that route map. The route map outlines the key high-level messages, the first of which is that working from home should remain the default position, where it can. The reopening of a limited number of workplaces is set out in phase 1, and where home working is not possible, businesses and organisations are encouraged to manage travel demand through use of staggered start times and flexible working patterns.

Secondly, people can travel short distances for outdoor leisure and exercise, but the advice is that they should stay within a short distance of their local community and should travel by walking, wheeling or cycling, where possible. Our transport transition plan is informed by and expands on those key high-level messages.

Transport will help to facilitate the recovery of our health, society and economy by allowing people to get around again to access services, jobs, friends and family. However, I start with the reminder that in order to protect the integrity of our public transport system as we transition, it is of paramount importance that everyone continues to take personal responsibility for their own safety and that of others with whom they might come into contact when travelling.

Our plan will be developed to ensure that the people of Scotland are safe while travelling, and that our transport operators are safe at work. We have engaged with trade unions, passenger groups, operators, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities and regional transport partnerships, and I emphasise strongly that we will continue to work with them in the weeks and months ahead, as the plan evolves.

As a consequence of the phased approach that is outlined in the route map, there are three separate strands in our transport response to the pandemic through the immediate, medium and long terms. They are: easing of restrictions on daily life and movement; support for economic recovery in the transport sector and the broader economy; and development of the future of transport in Scotland.

As part of the first iteration of the plan, we are publishing clear guidance to support the transport sector in moving to restart and recover, and we are providing guidance for passengers who use public transport. The top-level message that I would like to convey is that the level of physical distancing that is needed as we navigate the phases of the route map will obviously affect public transport capacity, with operators estimating that the 2m physical distancing will mean that capacity is between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of normal capacity. As a result, a system that typically had 1.5 million people journeys per day—with peaks in demand at 100 per cent capacity—will have substantial constraints on it.

Our transport transition plan has a number of national aims, so over the coming weeks and months we will work with local authorities to operationalise them at local level. Our plan will inform passengers about when and how to access public transport safely. It will support management of travel demand by reinforcing broader messages on physical distancing and discouraging unnecessary travel through sustaining behaviour changes, encouraging active travel options and staggering journeys in order to avoid peak times. It will also inform passengers and road users of busy areas and times in order to encourage alternative choices.

Guided by our principle of ensuring safety, transport operators and authorities are planning for physical distancing and increased cleaning measures on public transport and at bus and rail stations, ferry terminals and airports. The importance of distancing and hygiene on board public transport and at public transport hubs will be critical to the plan’s success.

Although transport operators and authorities will ensure that the transport environment is as safe as possible, we all have a personal responsibility to take steps to protect ourselves and others.?It is vital that we continue to keep to 2m physical distancing wherever possible, that we wash our hands regularly and that we maintain good respiratory hygiene.

Even with the measures that transport operators are putting in place, it can be difficult for people to maintain physical distancing throughout their journeys on some forms of public transport. I know from my discussions with the trade unions and operators, and from surveys of public sentiment, that those are real and live concerns. For that reason, and as a consideration to staff and fellow passengers, people should—and are expected to—wear face coverings as an additional measure when using public transport. I ask people to please come prepared with face coverings when they use public transport.

Of course, there will be situations in which that is not practicable, as is reflected in the detail of the guidance. Furthermore, it is vital that, when using face coverings, the public follow our guidelines on their use, which includes ensuring a high level of hygiene. We will, of course, keep that position under regular review in order to reflect any new evidence that becomes available.

We are looking to increase the frequency of public transport in phase 2 of the route map—although, given the restrictions on the number of people whom we will be able to carry, we need fewer people than normal to travel, especially at busy times. As I have stated, in line with the route map, we are urging employers to show leadership and to be as flexible as possible in order to allow earlier and later starting and finishing times for people who have to travel.

While we move through the phases, we will need to manage expectations in our public transport network around, for example, travelling into cities. We must recognise that it will be not be possible to satisfy demand fully, and we must ensure that our recovery is fair, sustainable and does not exacerbate inequalities in our system.

We will continue to work with a range of stakeholders—transport operators, passengers, local authorities, education, the health service and business—to inform the easing of restrictions and to manage demand for transport, based on the evidence that we gather. For example, the Scottish Government is working with local authorities and transport operators to ensure that transport is in place to get children to school.

It is important that our plan will seek to support reallocation of road space in order to give priority to walking, cycling, wheeling and buses. We have a real opportunity to secure a positive and lasting change in our sustainable travel habits. People continuing to walk, cycle or wheel will allow us to sustain the improved air quality that we have benefited from since the start of lockdown.

In April, I announced the spaces for people fund, which is providing £10 million of funding for local authorities to introduce temporary walking and cycling infrastructure to enable physical distancing. I have been delighted with local authorities’ response to that offer, and we have already received applications or expressions of interest exceeding the initial £10 million. I am very pleased to announce that we are increasing the fund to £30 million with immediate effect. I want all local authorities—urban and rural—to have the opportunity and support to access the fund.

As I said, we will carry on developing the transport transition plan as we move through the phases of the route map. We will continue to gather evidence to inform its evolution we will be ever mindful to take corrective steps, should they be required. The transition plan aims to make the transport system as accessible as possible for people, who should travel only when necessary, while maintaining physical distancing.

We need to continue to take forward the measures that will support people to use our transport system, while managing the challenges of the virus. I encourage transport operators and the public to make use of the guidance that has been published today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement, for which I intend to allow around 30 minutes.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance copy of his statement, and I add my thanks to all the transport workers across Scotland who have kept the country moving during the crisis.

As the cabinet secretary said, the transport sector will play a crucial role in helping Scotland to emerge from lockdown, and the transport transition plan that has been announced today is a welcome start. However, there are a number of questions about how the plan will work in practice.

First, can the cabinet secretary assure front-line transport workers that there will be adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for those who need it?

Secondly, transport operators have raised concerns that it might not be possible to maintain the required social distancing measures on rail and bus networks during rush-hour periods. Will the cabinet secretary clarify whether transport marshals or other officers will be deployed to monitor compliance with social distancing requirements, or whether travellers will be expected to self-regulate on those matters?

Finally, on the coach sector, I have sent the cabinet secretary a number of letters that have highlighted concerns that coach operators are not getting sufficient support during the crisis and that, as a result, many face going out of business, which will badly affect the tourism sector in Scotland when that market reopens. How does the cabinet secretary intend to address those serious concerns that coach operators have raised?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

On Dean Lockhart’s latter point, I am sure that he heard the response from Fergus Ewing on the coach industry, which Fergus Ewing is leading on. Fergus Ewing will no doubt keep Mr Lockhart informed and respond to his correspondence in due course.

On supply of PPE, if Dean Lockhart looks at the detail of the guidance, he will see that a very clear hierarchy of risk is set out that operators and employers have to consider as part of the risk assessments that they should be carrying out for their staff. PPE is the final point that they should arrive at in that hierarchy, because they should look to put in place mitigation measures in order to minimise the need for use of PPE. In our discussions with the transport sector, we have been given assurances that it has sufficient stocks of PPE to meet that need as and when it arises.

The guidance also emphasises the need to ensure that, as risk assessments are undertaken, there is engagement with affected employees, health and safety representatives and trade unions, for example, to ensure that the assessments are carried out in a compliant way that those groups are comfortable with. We will continue to keep that under review, as we will all the other parts of the guidance.

There is an absolutely critical point about compliance. The reality is that, with a transport system that will be constrained by physical distancing to such an extent that some modes might be able to carry at best only around a quarter of the number of people who would normally use them, we cannot expect the system just to absorb the pressure. People need to take responsibility for their own decisions, including looking at whether they can start earlier or later to avoid peak times. Employers need to demonstrate leadership by being prepared to support staff who can work from home to be able to continue to do so. If staff have to go into work, employers need to be flexible and consider allowing staff to have flexible start and finish times and staggering the days on which staff can work from home and in their office space.

The business community, the public sector, operators and individuals all have a part to play in helping to meet the challenges that we will face with a constrained transport system. That is why it is important that there is a collective effort and that we recognise the challenges that our transport sector will face in the weeks and months ahead.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

Labour recognises the challenge that the Government faces in increasing public transport capacity as we ease out of lockdown while ensuring that we meet what must be our number 1 priority: the safety of passengers and our transport workers, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude. That is why there cannot be any ambiguity. Therefore, why does there appear to be so much ambiguity in the guidance that the cabinet secretary published today? For example, it states:

“When travelling by bus, tram or rail you should, and are expected to, wear a face covering”.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that, with the words “should” and “expected”, that cannot be enforced? Under the guidance, there is, in fact, nothing to stop anyone—not just those who cannot wear face coverings for practical reasons—getting on public transport without a face covering.

The cabinet secretary said that PPE will be a last resort. What specific new measures has he announced today to protect our key front-line transport workers? Does his position on PPE and, indeed, the transition plan have the full agreement of the trade unions?

Finally, it seems that social distancing on public transport will be largely self-policed. What future support will the Government provide to ensure that there will be sufficient capacity to allow that distancing? Will the cabinet secretary give a personal commitment that we will not witness in our cities at peak times the scenes of overcrowded and dangerous buses and trains that we saw in England?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I will try to deal in turn with the points that Colin Smyth has raised.

The expectation is that, if a person is travelling on public transport, they should have a face covering. However, that is not appropriate and not necessary on some modes of transport. The expectation has been set out clearly in the guidance. If someone does not have a pre-existing medical condition that suggests that they should not have a face covering, and if they are travelling on a mode of transport other than a ferry, they should have a face covering. That is a matter of courtesy not only to other travellers but to those working in the transport sector.

On PPE, the member will recognise that the hierarchy that I mentioned is not specific to the transport sector. The need to ensure that employers have mitigation measures in place to minimise the risk of the 2m rule being compromised is also required in the construction sector guidance. Where a risk is identified that that could occur, employers should look at what appropriate PPE measures should be put in place. That is exactly why the guidance sets out in detail the need for operators to apply an assessment process to identify any risk. As I mentioned to Dean Lockhart, the feedback that we have had from transport providers is that, if after conducting an assessment process they consider that PPE might be required, they have sufficient stock and supply chains in place to address that.

I am sure that the member will recognise that a system as complex as our public transport system will, by its very nature and design, inevitably have pinch points where the 2m rule will be compromised. We are responding in a proportionate and measured way to try to minimise the risks of that happening. Rather than announce on a Sunday night that things will go back to normal on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, we are giving due notice about the timescale in which we will take forward our plans to allow transport operators, employers and the public to plan. Everyone—politicians, the public, employers and leaders in our communities—has a part to play in getting across the message that, when using public transport while it is constrained, we need to avoid making unnecessary journeys and comply with the guidance that has been issued.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s statement, which confirms that the route map includes supporting economic recovery in the transport sector and the broader economy while ensuring safety at bus and rail stations, ferry terminals and airports.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that quarantining people who are travelling to the United Kingdom should have been introduced months ago, rather than when the UK has one of the highest Covid-19 death rates in the world? That is absolutely a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted and it has inflicted further damage on our economy in sectors ranging from aviation to tourism. Given that the relatively inexpensive DnaNudge test can produce an accurate result within 75 minutes, does the minister agree that it would be better to test people who are arriving in the UK at our airports and ports rather than quarantine them?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The arrangements for aviation and at our airports, and the messages to the travelling public who may be coming into the country, whether it be through a domestic or an international route, are guided by the advice that is received from Health Protection Scotland.

The member will recognise that the quarantine policy is reserved to the UK Government. We remain engaged with the UK Government about quarantine and the proposals that will be introduced at airports in June. As it stands, there are still some uncertainties as to how some of those arrangements will operate, but I assure the member that we will continue to engage with the UK Government to ensure that the needs of Scotland’s aviation sector are reflected in any guidance that is implemented.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I thank the cabinet secretary for the early sight of his statement and accompanying documents.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that a system of safer routes to school is already in existence that, of course, does not have regard for social distancing requirements. The cabinet secretary has talked about sustaining behavioural change. I welcome the new money that has been committed to encourage active travel, walking and cycling. Self-evidently, students can cycle to school only if they have a bike. What steps has the Scottish Government taken to ensure that all children have access to a bike? Will the cabinet secretary consider the Scottish Green Party’s proposal to provide £100 bike grants to all children who are eligible for school uniform grants so that the welcome changes that are already under way have the widest possible benefit?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member raises an important point about seeking to capture the behaviour changes that we have witnessed in recent weeks, in particular the increase in the number of people who are making use of active travel options, whether that is walking, wheeling or cycling. He will recognise the significant measures that we have put in place, including the additional funding that was announced today to support local authorities to develop and put in place pop-up infrastructure that can support physical distancing while assisting people to walk, cycle and wheel.

I am as keen as Mr Finnie is to ensure that, if the existing lockdown arrangements have a lasting legacy, it will be that people continue to make use of active travel in the months and years ahead. The member will be aware that we have a range of schemes in place to support young people at school to consider cycling, such as the Bikeability training programme. We are looking at existing schemes to see whether they can be tailored to meet the growing need that there might be to support young people to consider cycling as an option for accessing school. I assure the member that we are considering the issue that he has raised. However, at this stage, I cannot give a commitment to his specific proposal.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

The cabinet secretary has referred to guidance that comments on

“an unprecedented package of support ... from both the Scottish and UK Governments” to the transport sector. It also refers to a

“basis of further specific support” to be

“considered in due course”.

The UK Government has provided the Scottish Government with Barnett consequentials of £339 million as a result of spending on transport elsewhere. Will the cabinet secretary confirm today that that £339 million will be allocated in its entirety to the transport sector in Scotland?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

On that specific point, I can say to the member that we have moved very quickly to provide support to the transport sector in Scotland from the outset of the pandemic. In fact, we are one of the few parts—if not the only part—of the UK that has gone so far as to support the aviation sector. For example, we have given business rates relief to airports and our aviation-based industries in order to support them through what is a very difficult time economically. The member should be in no doubt about our commitment to help to support and sustain our transport sector, and that will continue to be a focus in the weeks and months ahead.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The cabinet secretary must know that people who need to travel on the train will get on it if they can. Has he therefore considered recommending a booking-only system, particularly for rail travel, to ensure that people who need to travel can do so safely, as there might only be, as he says, a safe 10 per cent capacity on the train? Otherwise, we could face some of the scenes of chaos that we have seen occur down south.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We are looking at a range of options to help to manage aspects of demand. Arrangements are already in place so that people can only book train tickets for longer journeys if they do so in advance.

The challenge is short commuter journeys, for which it is much more difficult to manage the numbers. The Strathclyde electric network alone accounts for 40 per cent of our rail network commuters, and many of those individuals are going only one or two stops on rail. A booking system in that type of environment would not work, so it becomes very challenging to operate a system in that way.

The member is right that the existing assessment, which has been carried out by ScotRail, is that capacity on our rail network will be constrained to between 11 and 14 per cent, depending on the type of train that is being used on a particular route. That is why it is critically important that we do not expect to simply be able to put systems in place that allow the transport system to go back to normal. To meet the demand, businesses and individuals have to take the responsibility of changing working arrangements and encouraging changes such as working from home and flexible start and finish times, in order to avoid travel at peak times.

The public should be trying to use active travel for short distances rather than using trains or buses at peak times. We should all be looking at the role that we can play to manage demand. It is just not possible to expect us to put a simple system in place that will be able to manage the demand in the transport system while going back to normal.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

The travel restrictions on ferries to and from the Western Isles have played an important part in containing the spread of the virus in the islands. With the publication last week of the route map for moving out of lockdown, how will the travel restrictions to the islands fit into that route map? Can the cabinet secretary give an assurance that any discussions between Transport Scotland and ferry operators about timetables for this summer will reflect the need for any changes to be gradual and done with great care?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The transport transition plan sits alongside the route map, which the First Minister set out last Thursday. As we move through the phases in the route map, the transition plan will adapt to make sure that we address transport needs that might be required to meet any increase in demand. That will include ferry services to our island communities.

We are acutely aware of some of the concerns and issues that our island communities have about any changes to the timetable arrangements. Only this morning, a discussion took place between Transport Scotland and our island authorities to explore that issue. I assure the member that, before any changes are made to the timetabling arrangements for ferry services, there will be engagement with the island authorities to look at the issues and to ensure that any changes are introduced appropriately.

Ferry capacity is likely to be significantly constrained through physical distancing. CalMac estimates that its network will be constrained to something like 17 to 18 per cent capacity because of physical distancing. That will have a significant impact on who can use our ferry services. It is part of our thinking and planning for making sure that any increase in demand for ferry services reflects the needs of our island communities. I give the member that assurance and will continue with that engagement as we move through the phases of the route map.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The UK’s best bus company, Lothian Buses, which is owned by local authorities, is under massive pressure with 90 per cent loss of revenue and hundreds of jobs on the line. The buses have seen investment to make them safer for staff and passengers and they are key to getting our economy moving again and to let people travel safely. Will the Scottish Government follow the UK Government’s support for Transport for London and provide support to Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams now, so that when we have moved on from the lockdown, we have the public transport available for people in the Lothians and for those using park-and-ride facilities travelling from the central belt, Fife and the south of Scotland?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Excuse me, but could the members over in that corner speak a bit quieter please?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will not mention whom you are referring to. Mr Crawford.

I recognise the concern that Sarah Boyack has raised. We have already engaged with City of Edinburgh Council about the challenges that it faces with Lothian Buses and the tram services that it operates. The member will recognise, however, that, in ramping up bus services to meet any increase in demand, given the capacity constraints that they will be under, the majority of bus services across the country will effectively be running at a loss because they will not be able to run at the normal capacity that would allow them to meet the costs of those services.

The discussions that we are having with Lothian Buses and other public bus service operators across the country are about understanding the potential financial impact they will face. If we are to expect those operators to increase capacity in the weeks and months ahead, it will need to be financially viable for them to do so, given the loss of revenue that they face as a result of physical distancing. That is why we are having to undertake a level of detailed work with operators such as Lothian Buses to understand that fully, and to look at what measures we can put in place to support them to ensure an increase in bus services in the weeks and months ahead.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Unless we speed up with the questions and answers, I will certainly not get everyone in.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

We have spent recent years encouraging people to use public transport, but now, in the short term, we are kind of discouraging that. How w the balance is struck so that we do not put people off public transport long term?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I hope that the public take reassurance from the guidance that was issued today, which is not only for operators. There are two elements to it: the operators guidance and the public guidance on making use of public transport.

We want to encourage people to consider that guidance and to make use of it if they have to use public transport. However, the reality is that it will remain constrained for a considerable period while physical distancing remains in place. That is why it is critical that we see the right type of leadership in businesses in relation to supporting their staff to continue working from home for extended periods and being flexible with work routines if staff have to come into work, in order to avoid peak-time travel.

It is also critical that the public have assurance that bus and rail operators and other public transport providers are putting in place enhanced cleaning regimes as well as management systems at particular transport hubs to support people in maintaining physical distancing, and that they put out clear messaging on how people should purchase tickets—for example using contactless payment and in advance of their journey.

Those measures, collectively, can support people who need to use public transport to be assured that we are doing everything possible to help manage physical distancing and hygiene on the public transport network. Equally, we need others to play their part; we need individual personal responsibility and we need businesses and the public sector to consider work arrangements to minimise the risk of peak demand getting to a point at which it extensively compromises physical distancing on the transport network.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

In April, the cabinet secretary announced the £10 million spaces for people fund. He said at the time that he thought that some schemes could be up and running within two weeks. Has that transpired and, if so, for which schemes? Will the cabinet secretary publish a list of the schemes that have been approved? The money for the spaces for people fund was taken from the places for everyone fund, which was for permanent schemes. Is this extra £20 million also recycled money?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Unfortunately, Mr Simpson is a bit behind the curve. In fact, less than a week after the fund was announced, Edinburgh had already put in place road closures in a number of routes in response to the guidance that we issued and the creation of the fund. In the past fortnight, Glasgow has, I believe, opened up the Clydeside expressway cycle route, which I think has introduced about 1.5km of cycleway.

The City of Edinburgh Council has announced today the further measures that it intends to take forward as part of the spaces for people fund. There are therefore already schemes in place, and there are plans for further schemes not only in the big cities but across areas such as Lanarkshire and the Highlands. We are seeing schemes being rolled out, and I encourage Graham Simpson to continue to engage with councils as they take that forward.

On the question of the funding being recycled, Graham Simpson is correct that the spaces for everyone funding is for permanent structures. The challenge is that, because of the lockdown arrangements and the restrictions that we have at present, local authorities are not able to develop and take forward schemes in the way that they normally would. Rather than that money remaining locked and not being used, we are freeing it up to allow it to be used for a different purpose—that is, for temporary infrastructure. Although some of that temporary infrastructure might become permanent infrastructure, it is about making sure that we free up the money so that it can be used to benefit people now, rather than it lying there and not being used in a way that could benefit people in supporting physical distancing and active travel in the weeks and ahead.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

Many young people travel on contract school buses and others access public transport. Will the public transport standards—the wearing of masks and social distancing—be applied to school transport? Will local authorities be funded to negotiate the bus contracts? Will a prioritisation system be applied in public transport to get young people to school safely and not put them in a situation of being denied boarding?

If bus drivers are expected to deal with those issues and other potentially challenging situations, does the transport transition plan have the full agreement of the trade unions?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We have faithfully engaged with and consulted the trade unions during the shaping of the transition plan and guidance. They have given us feedback on issues that relate to the plan; some of that feedback has been incorporated into the plan and some will be reviewed. That engagement will continue.

The member will be aware that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has issued guidance to local authorities on the continuance of funding of bus contracts for education purposes until the end of the school term. We are engaging with our colleagues in education with regard to any future arrangements around that issue, because education leads on those matters. We will support our colleagues around the demands of the transition and its potential impact on transport. I expect any arrangements for school transport to reflect the need to maintain social distancing.

On the member’s point about buses not allowing young people to board when they try to go to school, we need to consider how to address that issue effectively. For example, there might be a way to stagger start times for schools, which would help to reduce the risk of buses being busy at peak times. All those issues are being explored and I am discussing them with my colleague the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, to ensure that we understand the implications for transport and consider what mitigation measures could be put in place to help to manage demand.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I thank bus drivers for taking on the unenviable task of trying to implement the major reduction in seating capacity on buses. I will see that for myself this evening when I get the number 7 bus back to Maryhill.

How will the Scottish Government support bus companies to significantly increase the frequency of buses, which will undoubtedly be required, ensure that revised timetables are displayed at every bus stop so that all passengers—not only those with smartphones—are fully informed, and ensure that bus companies identify and rectify pinch points on routes, so that some passengers do not constantly have buses run past them due to unavoidable capacity restrictions?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member will be aware of my earlier response on the economic impact of capacity constraints on the bus industry, including operators such as First Glasgow. We are assessing the financial impact that any increase in service could have on operators and whether financial support needs to be provided to sustain services, given that operators will effectively be making a loss when they run services on which capacity is so constrained. We are taking that piece of work forward.

Bus operators have been looking to increase frequency of services on routes where there has been greater demand. First Glasgow introduced double-decker buses, where they had initially been operating with a single decker, to support physical distancing, and has looked at increasing the frequency of service on particular routes, where demand has increased.

Those are issues on which the transport transition plan looks to support operators, including regional transport partnerships such as the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, to ensure that they engage with transport providers in areas such as Glasgow and look at the arrangements that they have put in place to help to meet demand. We continue to consider those issues. I assure the member that the guidance that has been published today for the public and for operators and their staff helps to give operators assurance on the approach that they should take in dealing with such issues.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The effects of being shut off during lockdown are felt more acutely by people in Scotland’s islands. Normal ferry services and tourism have all but disappeared, and incomes have been lost.

How will the cabinet secretary’s transport transition plan offer hope that Scotland’s islands will be protected but not shut off for business? Given that most ferry services rely on substantial public subsidy to survive, has the Government revised the budget that will be required to replace the loss of the passenger revenue on which so many services rely?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

On Jamie Greene’s latter point, we already have in place a contract variation with ferry operators that provide services to us, to recognise the financial consequences of the lockdown arrangements and to support the services to be sustainable, and we will continue to look at that.

Jamie Greene raises an important point about the need to strike a balance between opening up our island communities in a proportionate and appropriate way and not exposing them to undue risk. As I outlined earlier, as we go through the phases that are set out in the route map, our approach is to assess the potential impact on transport modes, including ferry services, and consider what arrangements we need to put in place to meet and manage any additional demand.

As I outlined, the reality is that, even when we move our ferry services back to a normal timetable, capacity will be very significantly constrained, particularly on our largest vessels, which will have in the region of 17 to 18 per cent of their normal capacity. No matter what happens, there will be significant constraints and we need to make sure that we manage them in a way that reflects the needs of island communities and the people who live in them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can squeeze in a quick question from Joan McAlpine.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

What advice does the cabinet secretary have for transport workers who are shielding? I have a shielding constituent who works for Stena Line, which refuses to furlough him, thereby forcing him on to statutory sick pay. When I approached the company, it said that it was short of able seamen, which suggests that it is trying to force the vulnerable man back to work. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is unacceptable?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am not aware of the individual case that Joan McAlpine refers to, although it strikes me as concerning if the individual is shielding. If Joan McAlpine wishes to provide me with further information, I will be more than happy to look into the issue for her.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes questions on the cabinet secretary’s statement on Covid-19 and transport. Apologies to Rona Mackay for not being able to reach her.