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News

Tom Hart’s transport news, 1 April to 30 June 2017

Published 30 June 2017 by Colin Howden

Tom HartThis commentary is from Tom Hart from Scottish Association for Public Transport, although they’re his own personal views.

 

MAIN NEW ISSUES

Localised air quality and action to cut greenhouse gas reductions (despite opposition from President Trump) receive prominence as well as new policy on the need to cut damaging diesel emissions. Transport had a low profile in the unexpected June General Election with Conservatives losing an overall majority. This has raised doubts over a third runway at Heathrow and led to promises of more funding for infrastructure in Northern Ireland but a weakened SNP role in Parliament. Uncertainty over Brexit and the funding of potential rises in government spending and borrowing is acute. UK productivity is low but some industries – especially in-tourism – have been helped by the falling value of the £. In a surprising development, Scottish quarterly economic growth has risen to 0.8%, higher than in the rest of the UK. Also new is the increased risk to transport and other activities arising from computer hacking or takeovers.

 

AVIATION

MSPs have approved the Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill but have sought more evidence on the actual economic impact. Adverse impacts on public finances and on cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are expected with overall benefits for the economy questioned. IATA report world demand for air travel rising 11% in last year. Norwegian has introduced flights from Edinburgh to eastern USA for under £100 with flights to California also planned. Scottish Government confirms CO2 emissions from air travel may almost double but with this cancelled out by other measures to cut emissions (EN30June)

Edinburgh Airport has disputed AirHelp claims that, of 76 airports surveyed, Edinburgh is the fifth worst in the world. However, rising usage was causing some issues which being addressed in addition to consultations on controversial new flight paths. Problems were worsened by a catastrophic power failure for two hours on 28 June. Earlier, computer failures had caused huge problems for British Airways services at London Heathrow. NHS hospitals also affected.

Pilots are concerned about the impact on them and passengers of toxic cabin air. Scottish island airports have raised safety fears about plans to centralise air traffic control.

Glasgow is under pressure to scrap a controversial drop-off charge of £2 for 10 minutes. This has increased local congestion but the airport wishes to see greater use of public transport. A drone has come within 65ft of a plane close to Edinburgh Airport.

 

FERRIES & SHIPPING

Cromarty Firth Port Authority is to re-submit plans for direct ship-to-ship oil transfers. Cruise ships are making increasing use of the pier at Invergordon – with 6,600 passengers on two cruise ships arriving on one day.

Following NAC closures of public toilets on Arran, it has been suggested that a levy on ferry fares might help retain facilities on the island.

The paddle steamer Waverley is now 70 years old and still cruising on the Clyde and west coast, with other trips also offered by MV Balmoral.

Private marina owners and yacht users have criticised Argyll & Bute Council plans to spend £3m on a short-stay transit marina in Oban.

CalMac is taking over the short ferry route linking Kerrera with Oban. Western Ferries are to spend £2.5m to upgrade their McInroy’s Point terminal in Gourock – now used by 1.3m passengers and 650,000 vehicles per year.

 

RAIL

Work has started on 65 new Azuma trains to be used by Virgin on the East Coast route to London.

Times will be cut by 22 minutes by late 2018. In the next UK Parliament, a Bill will be presented to extend new HS2 route from Lichfield to Crewe and details of plans for the Birmingham spur to Sheffield and Leeds will be released later this year.

First/Trenitalia and Stagecoach/Virgin/SNCF are rivals in in bids to run the run a new West Coast Partnership to operate services from April 2019 and also initial HS2 services when Phase 1 of new route is open from London to Lichfield. There is also a third bidder -MTR Hong Kong (H23 June)

Hitrans is in talks with Caledonian Sleeper on an internal Scottish overnight service from Thurso to Edinburgh and leaving from Edinburgh at 11.50pm with Thurso arrival at 10.30am

Prof Iain Docherty has called for all aspects of rail management and funding to be under full Scottish control (H22 May) – a view supported by the Scottish Government, Reform Scotland and other bodies. ScotRail punctuality has improved in recent months and is well above the British average. Network Rail is seeking ORR permission to slow trains at peak times to further improve punctuality but ScotRail is opposing this proposal (S 20May)

Cost rises and the need to replace defective equipment has again delayed completion of Glasgow Queen St HL – Edinburgh electrification. Some trains should be electric by October and fully electric by December (S13 June; H14June)

ScotRail staff have expressed deep concern about a ‘war zone’ at Hamilton Central station over the past two years. Ian Lawson of Milngavie asks why ScotRail is one of the few rail systems in Europe not investing in trains which allow level access from platforms – helping general users and allowing wheelchair users to use trains without the need for help (H30May)

Rail bosses are set to submit plans for a £10m viewing platform at the top of the Forth Rail Bridge- aim is to open by 2020, the bridge’s 130th anniversary.

The Scottish Government has launched road and rail studies for the Scottish Borders area, including a possible rail extension to Carlisle. CBR (Campaign for Borders Rail) has outlined the case for a £644m (at 2012 prices) reopening of the Tweedbank-Carlisle line – seeing both general and tourist benefits and a big shift of timber traffic from road to rail. The CBR report argues for a shift away from plans for major improvements on the existing West Coast Main Line via Beattock, including greater use of the existing alternative Carlisle-Glasgow route via Dumfries.

The Rail Delivery Group has outlined rail priorities in Scotland with a focus on cost control, slower electrification and upgrades of the existing network and stations, easing current bottlenecks. It does support electrification of the Edinburgh South Suburban Line (for both passengers and freight) together with electrification to East Kilbride and from Glasgow to Barassie via Barrhead and Kilmarnock.

Other pleas have been made for earlier reopening and electrification of the Glasgow City Union line to regular passenger services, an extension of rail services to Levenmouth and to Hawick and by the former SNP leader Alec Salmond (now no longer an MP) for rail extension to Ellon and Peterhead and onwards to Fraserburgh (RAIL 828 7 June).

Transform Scotland is pressing for rail route safeguarding, including a direct route from Cowdenbeath to Perth as well as plans for new route from Inverkeithing to Cowdenbeath.

Both rail and road routes and usage levels are being reviewed as part of consultation on a revised National Transport Strategy due to be completed by 2019. Network Rail is consulting on a proposal to close Breich station, used by an average of 2.6 passengers per week, as part of a cost-effective strategy for electrifying the Edinburgh-Shotts-Glasgow line by 2019.

ScotRail Alliance now has 70% of all tickets available on smartcards but Scotland still lacks easy to use zonal cards for all forms of public transport with no penalties for interchange.

 

BUS, TRAM & TAXI

Edinburgh trams now have an operating surplus but have left Edinburgh ratepayers with a huge debt to be paid off. There is still vocal anti-tram opinion but Edinburgh Trams have topped the list for customer satisfaction. The long-awaited City Deal has been ruled out as a source of funding for extension but TIF financing remains an option. On 7 June, flooding of the tram Gateway underpass stopped operation westward. It is now 55 years since last Glasgow tram attracted huge crowds in 1962

Following extensive complaints and fines, Glasgow City Council has improved bus lane signage in Glassford St. Bus lane fines in Glasgow in 2016 were £6.7m but the total is now falling (H26June) Bus operators argue that emissions from diesel buses have already been reduced with no presently viable alternative to diesel bus operation. The higher costs of non-diesel operation could lead to fare rises unless covered from other sources. Pressure on local authorities to cut bus support is rising as is pressure to replace present compensation for free bus travel across Scotland for those over 60 or disabled with a new system providing support for local transport use and appropriate networks.

Lothian buses has introduced new South Queensferry-Edinburgh services to replace the withdrawn Stagecoach service. It operates every 20 minutes during the day with extra peak period services and hourly in the evenings.

Bus woes in North Ayrshire after major cuts in services from 5 June. Off-peak Beith-Glasgow express services now hourly rather than half-hourly with some services rerouted via Braehead Shopping Centre. Beith still has 2 buses an hour to Kilwinning but not on an even half-hourly pattern. The hourly fast service is supplemented by a slower hourly service taking much longer due to detours to serve more housing areas in Kilbirnie and Dalry. Further discussions are due between Stagecoach, SPT and NAC.

In the east, First has cut X19 express Falkirk/Boness-Edinburgh services from 7 to 1 per day following withdrawal of Falkirk Council support. The newly founded Boness Community Bus Association is piloting a 12 week trial service with 2 trips each way in a 16 seat minibus also serving Blackness (with no previous service). Present structures for services and fares continue to inhibit bus/rail co-ordination. First West Lothian offered 25% bus discounts during the four-day Royal Highland Show

Lothian bus drivers complain at delays in allowing them not to wear ties on very hot days. In another rare incident, a pensioner struck by a Lothian bus has died.

Uber private hire drivers in Midlothian have had their minimum wage guarantee withdrawn just seven months after the service was launched. Little’s, the Glasgow-based chauffeur business report a large rise in demand from foreign tourists on the back of a Brexit hit pound

 

ROADS & PARKING

£1.35bn Queensferry crossing is expected to open at end of August with a 50mph limit for a short time while the present bridge and approaches are adapted for buses and taxis and continued use by cyclists and walkers. Queensferry Bridge will then be a motorway with 70mph limit.

Transport Scotland is inviting design, construction and maintenance contracts for A9 dualling of 6 miles from Luncarty to Pass of Birnam

Derek Halden, STSG Secretary, claims that a £3bn dualling of Perth-Inverness A9 could be a huge waste of money as autonomous vehicles could travel close together in ‘road trains’ with extra lanes only needed around junctions for merging traffic. Neil Greig of IAM RoadSmart says there will be shared use of human and computer-driven cars for at least 25 years (H29May) John Elder responds that the demand for autonomous cars was exaggerated. Many would prefer to remain their own drivers.

High quality of M8, M73 and M74 improvements east of Glasgow commended. The 23 miles involved will be maintained by Amey until 2047

£32m A801 3.2km Avon Gorge improvement may go ahead under a Falkirk Council TIF scheme

Plans have been announced for grade separation at the Sheriffhall roundabout on the Edinburgh Bypass. Preliminary work has started on A737 Dalry Bypass with the A77 Maybole Bypass expected to follow.

£8m repairs on the historic Union Chain Suspension Bridge over the Tweed are expected to be complete by 2020, the 200th anniversary of the opening of this bridge. Complaints continue over inadequate funding for local authority roads

Complaints are made about groups of cyclists causing serious hold-ups to motor vehicles on twisting main roads such as the A82 between Fort William and Ballachulish. Separate cycling lanes or more considerate cyclists were needed

Pressure is growing for 20mph and 50mph limits to be introduced on sections of the road network with a Survation poll for the Scottish Greens showing that 65% of Scots support 20mph limits in urban areas. But more than half of UK drivers admit to breaking 20mph limits and argue that they can increase fuel consumption.

There were 191 Scottish road deaths in 2015 – 14% up on 2015 – serious injuries also up 6% with rising speeds a factor. Deaths included 106 in motor vehicles plus 32 pedestrians, 30 motor cyclists and 8 cyclists. Speeding has also influenced a rise in car insurance costs with premiums up 76% for six points on a licence. Another issue is that 1 in 3 Scottish drivers are still using mobile phones at the wheel. Tailgating has been rated as the most irritating motoring habit followed by use of mobile phones and hogging middle lanes.

Rising car tourism is increasing problems of congestion and parking at ‘hotspots’ in Skye and on the North Coast 500. Public transport, active travel and rural public toilets needed more attention encouragement. Parking remains an acute issue around large hospitals with Edinburgh Royal backing down on plans to charge workers £15 for using space designated for visitors and patients

Soaring visitor numbers are also causing traffic and parking problems at Loch Lomond locations such as Luss and Balmaha.

 

WALKING & CYCLING

Most coverage has been of cycling rather than walking. A walk/cycle route on the former Grantown-Forres railway is being considered. Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has urged those living fairly close to work to walk rather than use their car on Wednesdays. Scottish Government aim is to get most within 2 miles of work to walk with many under 5 miles from work also cycling by 2030 (EN 17 May)

Edinburgh has been rated the UK’s most walkable city with London third and Glasgow fifth.

A cyclist killed by another vehicle when caught in tram track in Edinburgh has led to calls for a complete redesign of the affected junction, giving cyclists more time before motor vehicles can follow. Overall, studies show that cycling has greater positive impacts on health than walking due to its greater energy intensity (H12 May).

Cyclists are opposing plans to have only 8 cycle spaces on the splendid Inter-city 125 trains to be introduced in Scotland in 2018 with 6 of these spaces reserved for end-to-end travel

A Sustrans paper, Cycling Safety in Scotland, has identified the worst locations for cycling accidents – most being in the area of junctions or roundabouts. A complete redesign is being sought of the treatment of cycling in plans for the Sheriffhall roundabout

Glasgow City Council is providing almost £1m for an international standard BMX centre in Knightswood and more mountain bike trails in the Cathkin Braes Country Park. It is also expanding bike share spaces from 400 to 900.

 

PLANNING & PROPERTY

Regional Transport Partnerships (RTPs) are being reviewed as part of the present consultation on a revised National Transport Strategy (NTS) and related National Planning Framework (NTS) to be completed by 2019 in conjunction with a reassessment of longer-term Strategic Transport Projects. A range of consultations on the NTS has started with responses by 14 July to the team examining the evidence relating to seven key issues. This is being chaired by Prof. Jillian Anable of Leeds University (formerly at Aberdeen) and the Review Working Group includes Prof John Nelson of Aberdeen, Prof Tom Rye of Edinburgh Napier, Prof Graham Parkhurst of the University of the West of England plus four Transport Scotland staff members.

Though a stronger national lead on housing is favoured, local authorities prefer retention and development of phased regional plans for transport and land use. But there is dispute on preferred areas and relationships with City Deals. In June, Scottish Government published a 15 page Position Paper on Places, People and Planning dealing with responses made as part of the consultation on Planning which ended on 4 April. Further comments are invited by 4 August.

Stress is put on a stronger national lead, regional partnership collaboration and meaningful involvement at community level. More action was needed to deliver housing on land zoned for this purpose, including implications for infrastructure and funding. There was general support for a new infrastructure levy with further research on the nature of such a levy being undertaken.

Though land is zoned for housing, a major development of 1400 houses to the immediate north of Edinburgh Gateway station has been delayed pending clarification of junction issues and direct walk/cycle access to the newly opened station. East Lothian Council has approved Stage 1 of a major housing development at Blindwells with provision of a new rail halt on the East Coast main line if funding can be secured.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has set up a new team to examine rail prospects in NE Scotland, including reopening to Ellon. He is also interested in a possible rail service to Levenmouth while another team is considering road and rail prospects in the Scottish Borders.

An Edinburgh area City Deal is imminent while there are plans to set up a South of Scotland Enterprise Agency similar to HIE and covering the area from Galloway across to the eastern Borders (H23June)

‘New wave’ foreign money may replace sagging UK institutional fund interest in commercial investments in Scotland. Some London houseowners also see prospects for buying houses in Scotland. Buchanan St remains the best performing shopping location outside London but there are concerns for Sauchiehall St with plans for revival being implemented. Many intermediate town centres continue to suffer from weak growth or stagnation in shopping & bank closures.

Prospects for development on the Glasgow city centre Clyde Waterfront and in the areas from the BBC HQ to the former Garden Festival site are improving while in Edinburgh the east end of Princes St is gaining from massive redevelopment of the former Scottish Office St Andrew’s House.

The Clydebuilt Fund is assisting further development of the retail park to the west of Port Glasgow town centre. New occupants will include Marks & Spencer, Next and Boots.

 

RESEARCH & STATISTICS

Glasgow Airport reports an 8.9% rise in passengers in April. International users up 17.9% but domestic -0.3%; Edinburgh up 13.1% (Inat. up 20.4% and domestic up 3%). Aberdeen Airport returned to modest growth (2% domestic and 0.5% Inat)

A rise in ‘staycations’ and in ‘in-tourism’ has boosted Scottish tourism. Aberdeen is the only city showing a hotel downturn.

ORR rail passenger data for 2016-17 shows slower growth in London and SE (still accounting for 69% of all rail trips) but better outcomes for rail passenger revenue and passenger kilometres in the Longer-distance and Regional sectors.

Rail Delivery Group expects the number of rail passenger coaches in Britain to grow 89% by 2047, including large numbers of new and replacement rolling stock to meet growing demand in coming decade. In England National Travel Survey data (from which Scotland has withdrawn) may help improve rail demand forecasts – with actual demand well above modelling forecasts. Prof David Metz argues that current modelling is too slow to take account of changing behaviour. Views are being sought on various ways of developing road pricing.

Bus operators (except Lothian) report static or falling usage and resistance to fare rises

SPOKES reports that at Edinburgh inner-city peaks traffic car use is down 23% since 2006 but bike use up 51%. Data for May in 2016 and 2017 showed bike use up 7% and cars down 4.6%

A Scottish school survey finds 42.9% of pupils walked to school, 3.5% cycled, 2.8% scooted or skated, 16.7% travelled by bus while 24.2% used cars or taxis (H26May). However, school closures and the greater distances involved in rural areas mean that percentage distances travelled by bus and car are higher.

Transport Scotland has released revised STAG guidance on the wider economic impacts of transport projects. A key issue is to assess how far a transport scheme, though offering area benefits, might have no net benefit for the Scottish economy compared to alternative schemes. Schemes are likely to be more worthwhile if they bring an overall gain for the Scottish economy or clearly benefit areas with particular economic and social problems.

The Herald Quarterly Review Special Report on Infrastructure June 2017 assumes that the recent wave of public and private infrastructure investment has been beneficial for the economy without fuller analysis. It questions whether the pace of investment can be sustained but does not examine the possible merits of changes in the structure of investment and the development of new approaches to taxation, transport pricing and regulation.

A report by Brockley Consulting for Network Rail concludes that too high a proportion of rail fixed costs are being allocated to Inter-City Passenger Services and too little to rail freight and rural rail (LTT724 9 June). Rail freight specialists and rural rail groups argue that such an allocation of costs is misleading as a marginal cost allocation, related to rises in total benefit secured, would give better outcomes. Any report on fixed cost allocation should also include rail and road comparisons since ORR is now the Office for Rail and Road Regulation.

Aided by £2.2m of government funding, Heathrow Airport’s Ultra-Pods are being converted to fully autonomous operation.

Los Angeles based Hyperloop is developing proposals for ultra high-speed surface travel made possible by combining lightweight maglev vehicles operating at high frequency in near vacuum tubes minimising the air resistance which becomes a major problem for high-speed trains operating above 320kmph. Hyperloop speeds would be 3 times above High Speed Rail and construction costs halved. Further assessments of costs and benefits are required but suggested initial routes include London to Edinburgh via Manchester (in under 1 hour) and a multi-city route from Cardiff to Glasgow via Bristol, Oxford, London, Cambridge, Nottingham, Newcastle and Edinburgh (LTT724 9June)

Paul Buchanan of Volterra sees Hyperloops as making present HSR plans obsolete and killing almost all domestic and intermediate air travel. He also favoured an earlier banning of drivers from automated motorways (LTT725 23 June)

The proportion of new cars sold with diesel engines is already falling. The UK government is consulting on a possible scrappage scheme. Using lighter seats and other measures, Easyjet has cut carbon emissions per passenger km to 79.98g, 31% down on 2000.

University of Edinburgh is to study the impact of 20mph limits on safety and public health in parts of Edinburgh and Belfast (Contact Dr Ruth Jepson). Another Edinburgh University study has found that middle-aged male office workers are ‘dangerously sedentary compared even to men over 75.

They average 7.8 hours a day sitting down.

A Report by Dr Jo Inchley of St Andrews’s University finds that 90% of Scottish 15 year old boys and girls spend at least 2 hours a day on social media – sometimes much longer. This is causing problems for the health of young people. Scottish usage is higher than in most of Europe.

Research by Vitality-Health has shown that short commutes bring significant health benefits and higher productivity at work. Problems worsen if commutes (to work and back) total more than an hour. Walking and cycling raises benefits.

 

BUSINESS & PERSONNEL

Ryanair has hit full-year profit targets, helped by a higher than expected drop in unit costs.

IAG, owner of British Airways, has posted record first quarter results despite the collapse in sterling.

Loganair, previously a contractor for Flybe flights in Scotland, is now to face competition from Flybe on at least five Scottish island to mainland routes.

Shares in Stagecoach hit a seven-year low with the company affected by lower than expected growth on Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast Main Line rail services. Rail revenue is up only 1.5% and bus revenue down 1.7% outside London and down 1.4% in London.

Lord Adonis has become permanent chair of the National Infrastructure Commission

Keith Wallace is the new Caledonian Sleeper MD, replacing Peter Strachan who has moved to Chair UK Rail

Alistair Watson, a former SPT Chair and newly re-elected City of Glasgow councillor has died suddenly. He had a strong interest in public transport, both rail and bus. After the loss of Labour control of the City of Glasgow Council, Alistair had just been appointed Labour’s lead on transport and infrastructure.

 

Publications

State of Scotland’s Economy, Reform Scotland, June 2017 – overviews the Scottish economy and comparisons with the UK and other regions. Highlights need for more reliable data for policy makers trying to judge the right way forward. Has set up an Economic Advisory Board to help come up with solutions to current economic problems.