2023 STSG Chair’s Annual Report

John Yellowlees, STSG Chair

In 2023 Scotland has had three transport ministers, but the issues remained much the same.  Indeed the ministerial churn was cited by Holyrood’s net zero committee as a concern behind what it saw as an existential threat to island communities posed by the crisis at Caledonian MacBrayne, completion of whose two new vessels being constructed by Ferguson Marine slipped to more than five years beyond the original date. The deteriorating performance of the existing fleet reflected its age-profile, and campaigners called for “ferry justice” after sailings to South Uist were cancelled for most of June.

The Scottish Government’s target of a 20% reduction in vehicle mileage by 2030 looked like virtue-signalling in the face of the post-pandemic recovery in car use, while there was ever-mounting agitation over the slow progress on dualling the A9, with only two sections completed and Highland commentators hailing the 13 dead in the last year as indicative of Central Belt neglect. While his predecessor took up driving lessons, new First Minister Humza Yousaf’s Programme for Government recommitted to complete dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness – with the Contract Notice for the £150M Tomatin-Moy section published in a new format designed to attract more bidders – and also to dualling the A96 by means of a bypass round Nairn. Meanwhile a new railway station opened at Inverness Airport, and Winchburgh got a motorway spur but still no station.

Under-22s got free bus travel, and a trial abolition of peak-hour fares began on ScotRail, halving the cost of commuting between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Stagecoach commenced an autonomous bus trial between Ferrytoll and Edinburgh Park, and Edinburgh Trams extended its route by three miles to Newhaven in advance of publication of the Hardie inquiry, which had cost more and taken longer than the Chilcot inquiry into the causes of the Iraq War! First Glasgow’s proposal to withdraw the city’s night buses saw McGills stepping in to try to save as many routes as possible. However further east in West Lothian McGills have withdrawn several Firstgroup services which they took over last year which were in direct competition with Lothian buses West Lothian services.

Women and girls were being forced to adapt their own behaviour and change their travel habits in order to feel safe on public transport, according to research commissioned by Transport Scotland, who published for International Women’s Day a report making 10 recommendations to help women feel safer. Alcohol remained banned on ScotRail, but crowds returned to public transport during a busy summer season of rock concerts, rugby internationals, Edinburgh Festivals and a newcomer, the UCI World Cycling Championships. Edinburgh Airport brought in specialist couriers to deal with baggage chaos. Loganair secured a lease from British Airways for 30 additional slot pairs at Heathrow, previously leased to  Flybe before its demise in January. The fall-out from the Uxbridge byelection began to emerge as weakening the UK’s green transport commitments became a new politicalbattleground.

Glasgow’s low emission zone has proved to be particularly controversial with high costs for the city Council replacing many of its own vehicles, and the viability of many local taxi and community operators being threatened unless they can raise funds to purchase new vehicles.

I am as always extremely grateful to our secretary Derek Halden without whom STSG simply would not exist, to our loyal treasurer Mike Harrison and also to our independent examiner Eric Wishart who is contributing thoughts as to the Group’s future. Thanks also to other committee-members for their support during a quiet year – and please note everyone, if you want us to be more productive in 2024, it’s up to you to come up with ideas!

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