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  • The month that began with regional carrier FlyBe going bust ended with the most rapid peacetime transformation of society in history as the world locked down to fight the Coronavirus pandemic bringing COVID-19 that has already claimed the lives of, among thousands of others, 51 Italian doctors.

    In the new world of self-isolation and social distancing to protect the NHS, it is for the present illegal to visit friends or to go any distance for exercise. This Easter will see churches closed for the first time in Christendom. With people discouraged from using public transport other than commuting by key workers, we are living through a forced experiment in large-scale homeworking, with likely long-term implications for the future organisation of work as employers find how to cut office overheads and the potential of teleconferencing is explored.

    When eventually we get through all this together, the world will be a different place as we struggle with the inevitable recession. There may be an understandable reluctance to return to old ways which makes history of recent concerns such as network capacity and overtourism. Supply chains will have to be modified in the light of weaknesses that have been exposed.

    Just maybe people who are learning to use their limited opportunities for exercise will be converted to active travel. And with the emergence of new ways of being there for each other, could the world emerge a kinder place?

  • The influential research by Imperial College that helped to change government strategy is a good example of how to work with the best available data to manage uncertainty and inform good policy. Many of the assumptions are questionable, but they are all transparent helping to build trust and influence.
    https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf

    We will need more high quality research like this in the months ahead with well constructed transport scenarios to build a new stronger approach to delivery.

  • A COVID-19 Scottish Rural & Islands Transport Virtual Cafe is coming up on 15 May 10:00 am to 11:30 am by Zoom. Free

    As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is changing how we live and work. For rural communities it has created some specific challenges with access to transport services featuring prominently.

    In this live online event, you will have the opportunity to:

    Hear from 2 leaders who are at the forefront of delivering lifeline transport services and are supporting rural communities through these challenging times. Andrew Stewart is the Health and Transport Action Planning Manager at Aberdeenshire Council, and Ant Chisnell, is CoFounder and CEO of DriverNet who are at the forefront of developing smart mobility systems for passengers and freight.

    Share your experiences and stories of living, working and supporting your community during the pandemic.

    As it’s a cafe, we invite you to Bring Your Own Cake (BYOC) and share photos with a “cake envy” award at the end (if only there was technology that enabled us to taste them!)

    To ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the cafe, 30 minutes will be reserved for Q&A’s. You can also post questions to the speakers using the chat feature that will be available via the Zoom webinar platform.

    To access the Virtual Cafe:

    A Zoom meeting weblink will be emailed to you. Click on the link and follow the joining instructions

  • Not only are passengers reluctant to return to public transport but also we hear reports of traffic levels reviving in advance of any relaxation and of a small minority of motorists using the empty roads to drive at very high speeds. And the Scottish Government has deferred progress on Low Emission Zones. So people who are rejoicing at their newfound clean air may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

  • We have surely reached a nadir when we have a transport secretary who says “Only if you need to travel and you can’t cycle, walk or drive should you take the bus, tram or train.”

  • The BBC’s Andrew Marr showed contempt for transport yesterday by devoting his entire interview with Grant Shapps to the Dominic Cummings affair. Marr has repeatedly attacked HS2 without disclosing that he lives near its route.

  • Lockdown has provided awesome laboratory conditions for experiments in several areas, including:
    active travel
    homeworking
    online retail ; and not least
    what an independent Scotland might feel like.

    Nicola Sturgeon has commanded greater public respect than Boris Johnson, whose wobbles over staying alert, making compulsory the wearing of facemasks, claiming private transport to be safer than bus or train and quarantining international arrivals have not been replicated here. On the other hand the Scottish Government has been slower to lift lockdown restrictions, which puts a particular squeeze on our hospitality sector since the school holidays come earlier here. Has following the science been pursued with greater awe north of the border, and what does that say about the degree of deference that might prevail in the transport and other governance of an independent Scotland?

  • The curious collage of homeworking, cashlessness, social distancing and devolved lockdown-lifting which has so far characterised this weird year has also thrown out a few pointers to the future on matters such as inequalities (everything about the pandemic hits the poor worse), the environment (take a back seat, single-use plastics) and civil liberties (with track and trace, who cares any more about GDPR?).

    Also sadly becoming discernible for the first time is how Britain might finally move on from its 200-year love of the railways.

    For the first time in a century, rail travel is now perceived as unsafe, owing to Covid (despite passengers having to wear masks, without a vaccine in place “the science” won’t let ministers endorse a return to public transport) and climate change (Stonehaven is the worst but not the first warning of what may be in store for our elderly trackbeds).

    The end of rail privatisation having removed the firewall between rail franchises and Government, rail will also now be seen as no longer affordable, its fare structure of weekly and monthly season tickets irrelevant to the diminishing number who with decreasing frequency commute to a shrinking office-jobs market.

    In the new, poorer and more inhibited Britain, our existing motorways and trunk roads will suffice to move people by car or coach, and goods by white van and HGV, between our cities. HS2 protestors will rejoice as long-distance railways by default become wildlife corridors, while suburban networks will be much sought-after for active travel routes to and from city-edge parking hubs and for wayleaves to carry broadband.

    Our tourist lines may be first to go, as visitors prefer the security of camper-vans and the infrastructure falls victim to worsening storm-damage. The Forth and Tay Bridges and the Glenfinnan Viaduct will become visitor experiences. City-centre stations will be transformed into gated communities of the super-rich.

    As a lifelong railway enthusiast and former railwayman, I would want to do anything to stop the scenario that I have described. But as a former civil servant I fear for the future.

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