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Report on Transform Platform for the Greens

Published 28 March 2016 by Colin Howden

Bruce Whyte reports on the third of our ‘Transform Platform’ election event series.

The third of Transform Scotland’s election events was held on Wednesday 9th March, and featured Patrick Harvie MSP of the Scottish Green Party. Around thirty people attended the event at the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow to hear what the Greens plans are for sustainable transport in Scotland.

Ralph Roberts (McGill's Buses) introducing the event, with Patrick Harvie MSP and event chair Helen Todd

Ralph Roberts (McGill’s Buses) introducing the event, with Patrick Harvie MSP and event chair Helen Todd

Ralph Roberts, Managing Director of McGill’s Buses, gave some brief introductory comments. He summarised McGill’s bus operations. McGill’s carries half a million passengers a week and provides around 7% of all bus trips in Scotland. He pointed to how the company are updating their fleet and increasingly investing in buses that meet the latest the latest European emissions limits. He welcomed the imminent publication of Transform Scotland’s ‘Bus Fair’ campaign which will make the case for the value of the bus sector to transport.

Chairing the event, Helen Todd, Transform Scotland board member and Campaigns and Policy Manager at Ramblers Scotland, then introduced Patrick Harvie. She noted that Patrick had been an MSP since 2003 and had been convenor of the Transport, Infrastructure and Environment committee of the Scottish Parliament between 2007 and 2011. Patrick is a co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party.

Patrick started his talk by noting that over the coming months all parties would be setting out their stall on all sorts of issues including transport. He began by emphasising that as a society we should aim to live sustainably within our planet’s limits. His reflections were that the ‘Green movement’ has not been as effective on transport issues as they could have been. He noted that a lot of his work concerned a focus on reducing waste and it was important to think about transport in these terms; that transport should be considered a finite resource and that we should be reducing our need to travel but current thinking was all too often concerned with growth in transport.

He touched on the M74 campaign and commented on how it should never have been built and how the money invested could have been used much more effectively to support public transport and active travel, and to reduce polluting emissions. Patrick stated that we should be designing our towns and cities to meet the needs for sustainable transport locally and that travel over longer distances should only be considered when really necessary.

Challenging car dominance is difficult. While it is relatively easy to gain consensus on paper for good quality sustainable transport relative to need, action and investment still tends to flow towards supporting the roads and car usage. He reflected that public transport has grown successively more expensive throughout the majority of his life while car use has become relatively cheaper.

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Patrick Harvie MSP presents at ‘Transform Platform for the Greens’, 9 March 2016

The Greens support subsidised investment in public transport to make it cheaper and more affordable. Patrick gave his support to greater regulation accompanied by greater investment and felt that within such a model that either public or private ownership could potentially work equally well. Specifically in relation to buses he felt we need to decide how we want our services to work. These are services that are fundamental to people’s lives. As such, bus passengers need to have a greater voice.

In terms of rail, the Greens believes that there is an opportunity to shift investment from road to rail for both passengers and freight. Patrick also favoured a shift to having a Scottish not-for profit operator for rail services in Scotland.

In turning to active travel, Patrick reflected that walking and cycling were the most enjoyable ways to get around the city (Glasgow) but that decades of wrong-headed, petrol-headed policy had created polluted, unsafe streets and that planning policy had undermined the economic vibrancy of local high streets. He called for much more substantial investment in active and sustainable modes of travel, but also called for better infrastructure to avoid some of the obvious current problems of poor design and a fragmented network.

He briefly turned to aviation to state the Green’s opposition to giving tax breaks to this industry and reiterated that investment was needed into surface travel alternatives and encouraging local tourism (reducing the need to travel large distances).

In summing up he said that spending on transport and the supporting infrastructure needed to consider the social, environmental and economic impacts. In concluding he also outlined the Green’s manifesto commitment to introduce a modest toll of £1 on cars using the Clyde Tunnel. The funds raised from this would be ring-fenced for investments in other more sustainable travel options, including expanding the cycle hire scheme, the city car club, repairing potholes, etc.

A Q&A session followed Patrick’s presentation with questions covering a range of issues including how to tackle traffic congestion, the role of car clubs, the proposal for a land valuation tax, learning from the examples of European cities, the need for investment in the highland railway lines, the role of SPT, pedestrian and cyclist casualty trends.