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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, April 4, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 04 April 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Long-term Decline in Salmon Stocks, Portfolio Question Time, Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Transport (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


Contents


Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16747, in the name of Michael Matheson, on stage 1 of the Transport (Scotland) Bill.

14:54  

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

I welcome the opportunity to consider the stage 1 report on the Transport (Scotland) Bill, which is an ambitious and broad piece of legislation covering a wide range of issues. The bill aims to help develop a cleaner, smarter and more accessible system for the travelling public across Scotland, and it will empower local transport authorities and others to improve journeys for the travelling public.

Members who have monitored the bill’s progress will know that it is wide ranging and aspirational but also technical and complex in some areas. Such a mix can make scrutiny challenging. I commend the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for the diligent way that it has undertaken stage 1 consideration. The extensive range of voices and viewpoints from across civic Scotland that the committee has heard from is testament to its accommodating and meticulous approach to the matter.

I welcome the lead committee’s support for the general principles of the bill and its recommendation to Parliament that it should agree to those general principles. I look forward to saying more in the course of the debate about the Government’s thinking on some of the matters that are raised in the report.

The bill’s provisions range from measures to improve bus patronage, including smart ticketing, to improving air quality in our cities, increasing the safety and efficiency of road works and addressing parking issues. It also makes some necessary technical improvements to specific areas. For example, it will ensure more appropriate financial flexibility and governance arrangements for some public bodies. In developing the bill, a collaborative approach has been taken to ensure that its measures are informed by those that they will affect. We fully intend that that engagement will continue as we develop the associated regulations.

More widely, it is crucial that we see the bigger picture and how the bill fits into it. The legislation is part of a broader transport jigsaw and must be viewed in that wider context. Although matters such as low-emission zones, an improved framework for our bus services and prohibitions on irresponsible parking will benefit many, they should not be seen in isolation. In addition to the bill, a host of other non-legislative work is going on across my portfolio to drive improvement, not least of which is our review of the national transport strategy. That wide-ranging review has involved extensive public engagement across Scotland. It is forward looking and will provide the high-level strategic and policy framework within which the measures in the bill will play out. I expect to issue a draft of the new strategy for consultation later this year.

We anticipate that the strategy will set the context for any future consideration of legislation, beyond the current measures proposed in the bill. The need for such a wider strategic perspective is something that the lead committee has raised in relation to low-emission zones. We have always been clear that LEZs have the potential to interact with a host of other transport issues, be that congestion, active travel, the improved feel of community space or the uptake of ultra-low-emission vehicles. It is in that vein that local authorities should be looking to implement such zones. The Scottish Government is aiding local authorities in that, not least by setting the strategic context that I just mentioned. Future LEZ guidance will also help to set the measures in that context, and we are taking other practical action to make our transport system cleaner, greener and healthier and to improve air quality.

I am therefore pleased that we seem to have wide political support for the principles of LEZs. Helpfully, there has been some fruitful discussion during stage 1 about the specifics that will be set out in subsequent regulations. That has covered issues such as penalty levels, the national emission standard and exemptions. Such feedback builds on the extensive engagement that the Government is having on those issues, which is running in tandem with the bill’s progression.

There have also been questions as to whether specifics on such issues should be set out in the bill. It is worth remembering that LEZs are a new provision in Scotland. The flexibility afforded by secondary legislation is therefore necessary, as it allows proper engagement on development of the detail and an ability to respond to technological changes. I will reflect carefully on the comments of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, as the lead committee, and those of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, to ensure that there is appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of those measures.

I turn to the bus provisions in the bill. When it comes to improving air quality, buses are part of the solution, and measures to incentivise bus services should be an intrinsic part of the wider proposals around modal shift in LEZ areas and beyond. The bill offers an ambitious new model for bus provision. The trend of declining bus patronage threatens networks across the country and we must work together to address that. However, the trend varies across Scotland, as do the causes, and I am clear that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. The bill gives local authorities options to improve bus services in their areas, which will ensure that there are sustainable bus networks across Scotland. The bill will support local authorities to meet local needs, whether they wish to pursue partnership working or local franchising or, in certain circumstances, run their own buses.

On that last issue, I am aware that there have been calls for us to widen our proposal for local authorities to run commercially competitive services. As I have previously stated, I will continue to listen to views on that as we move towards stage 2. The bill will also improve the information on bus services that is available to passengers, which will help them to plan their journeys. That will make bus travel more accessible and attractive, and we know that people want it.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

I am pleased that the cabinet secretary is willing to look at the issue of local authorities running commercially profitable routes, but will he outline what he thinks the objections are?

Michael Matheson

The member will be aware that there are concerns in the bus industry about the impact that that could have on existing bus operators, as well as about the commercial viability of some routes. However, as I said, I am open to considering further measures that could help to improve bus services at a local level, including the issue that the member has raised, which was also highlighted by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

As well as clear information about bus services, passengers expect a simple ticketing offer. The bill will help to accelerate the implementation of smart ticketing and will support local authorities and operators to go further and faster to deliver multimodal smart ticketing arrangements, underpinned by consistent national standards. The Government is clear that partnership working between authorities and operators to address local ticketing needs is the most effective approach in a deregulated bus market. I am aware that there was support for that approach among various witnesses who appeared before the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee during its stage 1 deliberations.

I turn to the parking provisions in the bill. I am sure that we all want to ensure that our pavements and roads are accessible for all, particularly those with mobility considerations. It is therefore welcome that there appears to be cross-party support for the principle of pavement and double parking prohibitions in the bill. There was some debate at stage 1 about specifics, such as the process for exempting streets, and exemption criteria for delivery vehicles. The Government has sought to strike a sensible balance on such details. We are still listening to people’s views, and I am sure that we will hear more views this afternoon.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

There are quite a lot of streets in our cities where there is not enough room for everything that we would like to do. Does the cabinet secretary accept that, if the pavements are fairly wide and the roads are fairly narrow, it makes sense for cars to park with two wheels on the pavement?

Michael Matheson

I recognise that. Some city streets are too narrow for vehicles to park on both sides of the road and, at the same time, for vehicles to pass through. It is in recognition of that problem that the bill’s provisions would allow local authorities to exempt particular areas from the prohibition.

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

If, as the bill states, exemptions to parking prohibitions are to be made by local authorities, will they consult their local communities to come to an agreement that is best for all?

Michael Matheson

There is a provision for local authorities to undertake that process, which would include consulting local communities and other important partners such as emergency services, which have a clear interest in those matters, to ensure that they can express their views on that type of exemption process.

I am also grateful for the lead committee’s reflections that our provisions on road works

“will provide a positive framework and improve ... quality, safety and performance”,

and for its endorsement of our proposals to give regional transport partnerships more flexibility.

On the issue of canals, in our response to the committee’s report, the Scottish Government has set out the wider measures that we are taking forward to improve such waterways, in addition to the provisions that are contained in the bill.

Workplace parking levies are not currently in the bill, but they have attracted significant interest in recent weeks. The Government has given a commitment to support an agreed Green Party amendment at stage 2 to create a discretionary power for local authorities to introduce those levies should they wish to do so. Our support for that amendment is contingent on the exclusion of hospitals and national health service premises. It will be a local levy and it will be a matter for local authorities to decide whether they wish to consider introducing it in their areas in future. There will be no pressure from the Scottish Government to do so.

The Scottish Government recognises that the lead committee will wish to give itself adequate time at stage 2 to scrutinise such an amendment, including by taking evidence from stakeholders. We will support the committee in whichever way we can to accommodate that requirement.

I have cantered through a range of topics, which highlights the multitude of areas that the bill touches on. I look forward to hearing the views of members from across the chamber.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Transport (Scotland) Bill.

The Presiding Officer

I call Edward Mountain to open on behalf of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

15:07  

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I am pleased to contribute to the debate in my capacity as the convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

The committee’s stage 1 report on the Transport (Scotland) Bill was published on 7 March. I thank the cabinet secretary for his letter of 1 April, in which he provided the Scottish Government’s response to those recommendations.

In the limited time available, I will be able to cover only a brief selection of the issues that the committee raised in its report. It is unfortunate that we have less time available to debate the wide range of detailed and complex transport issues that the bill covers than we had last week to discuss the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill—a single-issue bill on which there was broad support across the Parliament.

The committee is aware that the Scottish Government has announced—it has reaffirmed this today—that it will support at stage 2 a Scottish Green Party amendment on the granting of powers to local authorities to introduce a workplace parking levy. The committee has agreed a timetable for stage 2 consideration that will allow us to take oral evidence on the full details of the amendment once it has been lodged. However, for the purposes of this debate, it is right that we park that issue—if members will excuse the pun—and discuss the many issues that appear in the bill as it is drafted.

Moving on to the committee’s consideration of the bill, I thank all those who gave up their time to give evidence at committee meetings and to attend conference calls. I thank those who attended an evening committee event in the Parliament and those who sent the many written submissions to the committee. I also thank the clerks, who supported the committee with professionalism at a time of a very heavy workload and a shortage of team members.

I will look specifically at the proposals in the bill, starting with low-emission zones. The committee is of the view that the effective introduction of low-emission zones will require steps to be taken in advance to provide improvements in public transport and to put in place measures such as park-and-ride facilities and improved active travel opportunities. In its response, the Scottish Government indicated that it agrees with the committee on that point and that such issues will be addressed in the LEZ guidance. We believe that that is welcome. The introduction of LEZs must be part of a co-ordinated package of measures if the behavioural change that is required is to be achieved.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s agreement with the committee’s recommendation that national consistent emission standards and exemptions should be set out in the regulations. I note that the emission standards are likely to be Euro 6 for diesel and Euro 4 for petrol. I also note that the Scottish Government agrees with the committee that nationally consistent signage should be used for all LEZs.

Finally on LEZs, the committee acknowledges in its report the financial burden that might be faced by businesses and individual motorists should they need to upgrade or replace vehicles to meet the necessary emission standards. It noted that that would be likely to present a particular challenge to those on lower incomes.

I note that the Scottish Government will create a low-emission zone support fund that will target commercial and private vehicle owners who will have the most difficulty in making the transition to LEZ-compliant vehicles. That is welcome and, in my view, it is necessary if we are to incentivise road users to comply with LEZs.

In its report, the committee acknowledged the widespread concern about the decline in bus use across Scotland. However, the committee notes the concerns that were expressed by several stakeholders in evidence that the bus service provisions in the bill are unlikely to make a marked difference in stopping the decline in bus use. The committee is concerned that, although many of those provisions are broadly considered to be positive steps, the reality may be that few of them will be taken up in practice due to the lack of financial resources to facilitate their set-up and operation.

The Scottish Government clearly disagrees with that view. Although I understand that it wants to remain positive about the proposals in the bill, the broad message that the committee received from local authorities and others was that the proposals are underwhelming and are unlikely to deliver any significant improvement. I am sure that other committee members will comment further on the bus service provisions.

On smart ticketing, the committee is concerned that the provisions to introduce a national smart ticketing standard lack ambition and that an opportunity has been missed to deliver a meaningful step change in integrated public transport. On the basis of the evidence that it heard, the committee is of the view that that can be achieved only through the introduction of a single ticketing scheme operating across all modes of transport.

The Scottish Government responded robustly on that issue, effectively ruling out such a scheme on the ground of cost, with an assertion that it would require a restructuring of the bus market. However, it was made clear to the committee that progress in that area among transport operators has been painfully slow. It remains to be seen whether, if the bill is passed, the proposals within it will result in any tangible progress being made.

Although the committee welcomes the proposals to prohibit pavement parking and double parking, it expressed concerns about the appropriateness of the exemption, which will allow 20 minutes for loading and unloading deliveries. It therefore called on the Scottish Government to lodge an amendment at stage 2 to remove the exemption and for a more appropriate and workable mechanism to be developed and included in guidance. The Government said that it considers that removing the exemption would enable loading and unloading for an unspecified and unlimited length of time. Technically, that might be the case, but that does not respond to the committee’s concerns that the exemption proposals, as drafted, would present innumerable practical and enforcement difficulties. I urge the cabinet secretary to rethink his position on that matter before stage 2.

During its stage 1 scrutiny, the committee discussed the issue of parking across dropped kerbs at pedestrian and other recognised crossing places. The committee felt that that is a

“significant ... barrier to the accessibility of urban streets”.

The committee has therefore called on

“the Scottish Government to bring forward an amendment at Stage 2 to prohibit”

that practice. It is encouraging that the Scottish Government is currently considering the most appropriate legislative route for addressing the issue. Nevertheless, I urge it to accelerate its considerations and to lodge a suitable amendment to complete what would be a welcome package of parking prohibitions

“which would more comprehensively enhance accessibility in urban areas.”

In the time available, I have been able only to skim the surface of the many issues that are covered in the committee’s stage 1 report. I hope that my fellow committee members will take the opportunity to discuss further elements of the report when they make their contributions.

The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee recommends that the general principles of the Transport (Scotland) Bill be agreed to. However, we look forward to stage 2 consideration of the many proposals that we have made for its improvement.

15:16  

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

It is a pleasure to open the stage 1 debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I add my thanks to the clerks and my fellow committee members, many of whom are in the chamber today. I also thank the many stakeholders whom I have met over the past few months, who have shared their views and opinions on the bill, including the transport secretary and his team, who have been very helpful in those discussions.

Since the Transport (Scotland) Act 2005 was passed, more people own and operate cars, we have seen a decrease in the patronage of our buses and the emergence of the gig economy has changed our driving habits and our economy. Equally, since 2005, there has been a renewed focus on our domestic and international obligations to tackle climate change.

At the outset, I say that the Scottish Conservatives will support the bill at stage 1. We agree with the general principles of what the bill is trying to achieve, although in many ways we do not think that the bill goes far enough to tackle many of the overarching issues that are faced by Scotland’s transport networks.

If someone is watching the debate and hoping to hear us discuss a groundbreaking, flagship piece of legislation that the Government has introduced, which will transform how Scotland is connected, or how the bill will radically address shortcomings in rail, road, bus, marine or aviation travel, or how the Parliament intends to revolutionise how we transport goods, people, or produce, they are welcome to stay tuned, but they may wish to change channels.

Overall, as it is currently drafted, the bill tinkers with existing legislation and proposes fairly benign new powers. It is all very necessary perhaps, but it does not exactly push the limits of policy imagination. It contains little on long-term plans to improve community travel and transport, particularly among our elderly populations and rural communities, little that develops sustainable non-concessionary travel frameworks, or anything that proposes to deliver dramatic improvements to our railways or ferries, or a radical overhaul of the state of Scotland’s roads.

That being said, and in order to be constructive, let me set out my thoughts on the bill. Part 1 of the bill deals with low-emission zones. We think that poor air quality remains an issue in our cities—it lowers life expectancy and it puts huge pressures on our health service. In those respects, we agree that there is a need for LEZs. However, significant issues have been raised about the current proposal. The committee took evidence on the issue and a number of the stakeholders with whom I have had private consultations are rightfully concerned, not least those who will be least likely to be able to afford to upgrade to new Euro 6 standard-compliant diesel cars, and not least those small businesses that need vans, which are often purchased rather than leased, to go about their business. Those who live outside the cities, in rural Scotland, who often drive diesel or agricultural vehicles and sweat their assets for longer than people who live in the cities, are also concerned. What about people who find themselves living in a zone, who will be penalised simply for going about their everyday business, taking the kids to school or commuting to work?

If public transport was universally perfect, there would be no need for a car. In an ideal world there would be no need for low-emission zones, but we live in the real world. Businesses are concerned, and we ought to listen to them. Industries, such as the bus and taxi industries, have raised concerns about the costs of operating within the zones and of purchasing compliant vehicles. An electric-powered taxi costs £60,000. The committee’s stage 1 report makes explicit reference to that. It says:

“LEZs should not be introduced unless appropriate steps are taken in advance to provide improvements in public transport provision and to put in place measures such as park and ride facilities and improved active travel opportunities”.

I agree, but that is not what it says in the bill.

Conservative members want to see some clarity about national standards. Let us leave the geography and operating hours at the local level, but let us avoid the confusion for business of having multiple distinct schemes, with conflicting standards. We would like to see a clear timetable for the introduction of the schemes, with phased implementation, to allow everybody the time to plan and transition to the new world. We would like to see appropriate incentives to encourage the take-up of ULEVs and LEZ-compliant vehicles.

Let us have a proper look at exemptions. Is it wise for disabled people, blue badge holders or other vulnerable travellers to have to pay to make vital journeys into cities for health appointments or to tackle social isolation? There must be support for residents within the LEZs, and public transport opportunities within the zones should be enhanced. We may seek to lodge amendments to that effect.

As the bill has progressed, other topics have not gained as much media attention as LEZs and parking, but they are nonetheless important. Local bus franchising is one example. There is a role for local franchising models, but that decision should not be made by anyone other than the local authority—the local authority must be fully transparent and open with local taxpayers about how their money is spent. However, I share concerns that the provision will allow them to operate only where there is an unmet need. That is severely limiting. I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary address that in his opening remarks.

In reality, how many local authorities have the money to set up depots, lease buses, hire drivers and pay into pension pots? Even if they have the money to do that, what will happen when a commercial operator comes along and says that they, too, want to operate on that route? There are many unanswered questions about the bill in that respect, and the main question is whether the bill goes far enough on local franchising.

There are some good initiatives on smart ticketing, such as the standardisation of technical standards. That is wise, but it falls dramatically short of introducing a fully interconnected ticketing network, the likes of which many countries benefit from. That is what we need, and the Government has missed a trick.

There is not much to disagree with on the issue of road works. We heed the committee’s warnings that local authority finance and resource remain a significant barrier to ensuring compliance.

One contentious issue that has arisen is pavement and double parking. We know that pavement parking is an issue in Scotland. It affects people who use our pavements; people with disabilities, people with pushchairs and people in wheelchairs or who are visually impaired can struggle to get past cars that are parked inappropriately. Equally, pavement parking is a widespread practice, which, as John Mason suggested, is a necessity on many roads. We have not talked enough about displacement: if the cars are moved off the pavement and on to the roads, where do they go?

I hear that there will be powers for local authorities to exempt roads, but how many of them have done the necessary mapping exercise, and how much time and resource do they have to do that? I do not think that the bill’s top-down approach is right.

John Mason

Will the member give way?

Jamie Greene

I am sorry, but I have very limited time.

The best approach would be to empower local authorities to ban the practice of pavement parking where it needs to be stopped. It is all about empowering local authorities, which know their streets and communities best. The top-down approach is not the right one.

It is a shame that we do not have more time to debate the bill. In the closing seconds of my speech, I need to talk about the workforce parking levy—it would be remiss of me not to do so. I campaigned vociferously for the levy to be brought into the bill at stage 1, so that evidence could be taken and added to the stage 1 report. The Conservatives’ view is very simple: it is an ill-thought-through, regressive tax on Scotland’s workforce and we will oppose it at every stage of proceedings.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Will Jamie Greene take an intervention on that point?

Jamie Greene

I will not.

There is a lot to be positive about in the bill. We will take a constructive approach to amendments. However, there are several elements of the bill that need improvement. The stage 1 report was robust and in depth. I look forward to progressing the bill through Parliament and to taking part in constructive debates on it. I will listen to today’s speeches with great interest.

15:24  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I ask members to imagine a transport system in which our transport agencies have the powers properly to regulate public transport in their areas and to deliver a genuinely integrated system; in which local communities can establish municipal bus companies without restrictions, putting passengers and not profit first, and reinvesting surpluses in better bus services and not shareholders’ dividends; and in which a person can board a bus and use their bank card to buy a ticket for that bus journey and the connecting train journey, through a system that calculates the cheapest fare, however many times they make the journey that week.

Members can imagine all those things, but the bill will not deliver any of them. The bill’s timidness is matched only by the timidness of the Scottish Government’s response to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s stage 1 report. The cabinet secretary made clear in his opening speech that the response represented just the start of the Government’s thinking on changes to the bill, rather than its final word. I welcome that. Our stage 1 report captured a range of views from many stakeholders, which deserve to be properly considered as the bill progresses through the parliamentary process.

There are aspects of the bill that I welcome. I am glad that the Scottish Government has set out a legislative framework for low-emission zones, proposed a ban on pavement and double parking and proposed an increase in the powers of the Scottish road works commissioner. I am glad that, after opposing not one but two Labour members’ bills on the subject, the Government plans to introduce some element of regulation to our bus network.

However, on too many counts, the bill lacks ambition. The mandatory minimum grace period for LEZs—and the length of the maximum period—and the lack of a clear definition of LEZ could slow down the change that is needed if we are to tackle air pollution. The loopholes in the ban on pavement parking, such as allowing 20 minutes for delivery and loading, risk undermining the aims entirely.

On buses, the bill tinkers around the edges of a failed deregulated system while our bus network is being dismantled, route by route, across Scotland. Since the Scottish National Party came to power, the number of bus journeys made in Scotland has fallen by 20 per cent and bus fares have risen by 17 per cent in real terms. There are many reasons for that decline, such as changing work patterns and growing congestion, but decisions that this Government has made have contributed.

The bus service operators grant has been reduced by 28 per cent under the SNP.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

The member describes falling patronage and so on. Can he give us the equivalent numbers for bus patronage and Government support in Wales, where Labour is in power?

Colin Smyth

I can tell Mr Stevenson that there has been an 8 per cent fall in Scotland in the past few years, whereas the rate was 5 per cent in the rest of the United Kingdom. The important point is that the bill will do nothing whatever to reverse that decline. Mr Stevenson agrees with that point, because it is in the REC Committee report to which he agreed.

Another factor that has contributed to the fall in bus use has been the cuts to council budgets in recent years, which are leading to yet more reductions in support for bus services in Scotland. The bill will do nothing to reverse the decline in bus passenger numbers, and it will do nothing to drive up standards in the sector or strengthen passengers’ rights and workers’ terms and conditions.

The bill will not improve affordability or tackle transport poverty. It will not properly promote community transport. Crucially, it will not lift the ban that Margaret Thatcher introduced, which prevents local authorities from competing to run bus services. The limited measures on franchising and partnership are welcome, but we need radical changes to how buses are run in Scotland, to protect the lifeline services that are currently being axed and to stop the big bus companies simply cherry picking the most profitable routes.

That means allowing our local councils to set up and run local bus companies, to meet their communities’ needs, without the restrictions that the bill will place on them. It means ensuring that changes to bus routes will be allowed only after proper consultation with passengers and with the agreement of the traffic commissioner for Scotland.

It means putting a stop to the race to the bottom in how staff are treated. If a company wants to receive public money for delivering services, it should pay its workers a decent wage and deliver proper terms and conditions.

It means ending rip-off fares. It means not just setting up an advisory board on smart ticketing, but giving that board a legally binding remit to deliver a single ticketing scheme across Scotland and across transport modes.

It means properly investing in our buses, not imposing a £230 million real-terms cut in the council budgets that are needed to make that investment, as the Government’s recent budget does. If we believe, as Labour does, that public transport is a public service, and if we really want to improve our environment, we need to properly fund public transport.

What will not protect our environment are the proposals for a so-called workplace parking levy, particularly given that the proposals are an afterthought and are being introduced at stage 2.

John Finnie

Was that the member’s position when his councillor colleagues in Glasgow City Council and City of Edinburgh Council had such a proposal as part of their local authority manifestos?

Colin Smyth

The Parliament needs to make a decision first, because one of my deep concerns is that, under the proposals, if a car parking tax was introduced by City of Edinburgh Council, as Mr Finnie suggests, thousands of workers, including my constituents who live in Midlothian, the Borders, South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway, many of whom are on low incomes and are priced out of the Edinburgh housing market, even if they wanted to live there, would have to pay the tax because they would have no choice but to use their car to get to work. However, they and their local councillors would not have a say in whether the tax was introduced in Edinburgh, and not a penny raised would be spent on public transport in Midlothian or the south of Scotland. That is a flaw in Mr Finnie’s proposals, and I hope that we will eventually be able to see the proposals that are currently being hidden from us by the Government.

The budget deal that has been done means that someone on £124,000 a year will get a cut in their income tax at the same time as a regressive car parking charge is introduced. A company boss will pay the same amount as a company cleaner will pay, and the chief executive of a health board who is on more than £100,000 a year will be exempt, but a carer who is working in a hospice and is on the living wage will have to stump up the money.

I will quote what the trade unions have said about the proposals, so Mr Finnie might want to listen. It is no wonder that Unison says that the tax

“devalues council workers and other staff, who deliver vital services”.

It is no wonder that the GMB says that

“it’s an attack on the take home pay of workers”.

It is no wonder that Unite says that it is a

“desperate attempt to absolve the government from the funding crisis they have presided over”.

It is no wonder that the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen says that

“it’s a burden on workers”.

I make no apologies for being on the side of workers, because they are being forgotten by the SNP and the Greens. Labour will oppose the workplace parking levy, which would simply allow the rich to pay to pollute.

In supporting the principles of the bill today, we serve notice that we plan to lodge a series of amendments to improve the bill, some of which I will cover in my closing speech at the end of the debate. When we lodge our amendments, I hope that the Government will move beyond its response to the REC Committee’s stage 1 report and work across Parliament to make the very significant improvements that the bill needs.

15:32  

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

As colleagues have done, I thank the people who have contributed to the bill—the witnesses, our staff and the many organisations that have provided briefings. At decision time, the Scottish Green Party will support the general principles of the bill.

A transport bill should be seen as an opportunity and should provide a longer-term vision. It should provide policy coherence not just within but beyond the transport portfolio. However, I get no sense that the Scottish Government is crusading in that regard.

The cabinet secretary said that the bill is “aspirational” and he talked about a “transport jigsaw”, but I prefer the approach of the Poverty Alliance Scotland and Oxfam, which posed the question what would an ideal transport system look like. Some of the provisions in the bill would clearly contribute to an ideal transport system, but we are way short of achieving such a system. This is a piecemeal bill that is conservative in outlook and will be amended.

The cabinet secretary mentioned a new national transport strategy, which is welcome. I look forward to seeing it: I am sure that there will be a lot of interesting contributions in it. Transform Scotland’s submission on the bill talked about the opportunities to address, for example, congestion, which all my colleagues acknowledge is an issue. What does not affect congestion is the means of propulsion of a vehicle. Everyone was enthusiastic about replacing petrol with diesel, and then replacing diesel with electricity, but that is not the answer.

In the bill’s policy memorandum, the Scottish Government says that

“Transport is a key facilitator for societal improvement and cohesion, therefore the Bill will have a positive impact on the Scottish Government’s purpose to create a more successful country”.

I say, on the basis of the bill that is in front of us, that that is a significant leap, because far too many of our transport policies reinforce the status quo. Under the bill, the market will still prevail when it comes to bus transport. It will be a case of private profit and public penalty, with hard-pressed local authorities being able to pick up only the scraps.

Road building is the transport priority of the Scottish Government and other parties. That is part of the on-going concession to the motoring lobby. If we concede to the motoring lobby, we ignore the needs of the 30 per cent of households who do not own a motor car. We know from the Scottish Government’s facts and figures in the policy memorandum that buses contribute about 5 per cent of road transport emissions, whereas cars contribute 60 per cent of them. We know, too, that three quarters of public transport journeys in Scotland are undertaken by bus.

Much is made of Lothian Buses. I am delighted that it now has its 100-seat buses on the go. Because the company is publicly owned and run, the beneficiaries of Lothian Buses are the residents of the city of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. Buses are vital in enabling people to go to work, school, college, hospital or the shops, or to visit friends and family. As has been said, people face cuts to routes, poor services and fare hikes.

Patronage has been declining for decades, so it would be entirely wrong to lay all the blame at the door of the present Government. Bus use has been going down since the 1960s, and mention has been made of many of the reasons for that. Transport Scotland—that was a Freudian slip; Transform Scotland cites the KPMG research on the decline in bus patronage, which talks about congestion and its impact on journey times, reliability and cost; the impact of parking; lifestyle changes, which have been mentioned by others; the relatively low cost of car use; and the decline in revenue for the bus industry from the Government and the rising costs.

Bus priority measures and low-emission zones would help. There has been negative talk about low-emission zones, but there has been little talk of the 40,000 lives in the UK that are lost every year as a direct result of poor air quality. Poor air quality is not a problem only in the centres of our major cities. I constantly remind residents in Inverness, where I live, that one of its streets has such poor air quality that it has to be constantly monitored. Therefore, it is clear that the idea of encouraging more people to drive into towns and cities does not make sense. Progressive countries are seeking to have vibrant town centres in which the motor car does not rule, and in which people can live, work and enjoy themselves.

When it comes to the workplace parking levy proposal, there is a danger that we could get bogged down in discussing hypotheticals. We have already heard rank hypocrisy from two of the parties in Parliament on the issue, and I dare say that that is likely to continue.

The example of bus use in Edinburgh is a very fine model. Edinburgh bucks the trend in many respects—it does so not just in relation to ownership, innovation and the range of routes and services that are available, but in relation to the nature of the passengers who use the buses. In other parts of Scotland, buses are used by poor people and cars are used by people who have money. That is why assistance has been given to the motoring industry for decade after decade, at the expense of the bus industry. We know that, in Edinburgh, a wide range of people use the bus network.

The Poverty Alliance and Oxfam talk about the critical role that transport plays in the lives of people who experience poverty, both in supporting their ability to increase their income and in representing a significant and important cost. Affordability is important.

The bill has many positive aspects, but it lacks ambition. The Scottish Green Party will seek to inject some ambition at stage 2.

15:38  

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

I state at the outset that I believe that the Transport (Scotland) Bill is important, and the Liberal Democrats will support it at decision time.

The Government has great intentions. In the bill, it tries to address some major transport issues, including the introduction of low-emission zones, the state of our bus services, national ticketing arrangements and banning of pavement parking. What it does not do—so far—is address the contentious issue of a workplace parking charge. As we have heard, that is missing from the bill.

John Finnie

Will Mike Rumbles give way?

Mike Rumbles

Oh, come on! I am only 30 seconds into my speech.

We are told by the Government that the issue will be considered at stage 2, even if it was not considered at the important stage 1 evidence-gathering sessions.

John Finnie rose—

Mike Rumbles

I will be more than happy to give way, but not just yet.

I turn first to low-emission zones. If we are serious about creating effective low-emission zones in our cities, we must ensure that steps are taken to improve public transport provision in the areas that would be affected before the zones are introduced. Although the Government agrees with that, it has basically said, “Over to you, local authorities.”

We must also ensure that there is consistency across the country on which vehicles may enter an LEZ, in order to avoid confusion and to encourage compliance with regulations. I am pleased that the Government accepted that point in its response to the committee’s stage 1 report.

I now turn to the actions that will be needed in the bill to arrest the general decline in bus use. Contrary to what Mr Finnie says, it is not just poor people who use buses; I use buses every day. Lots of people use buses, not just the poor.

John Finnie

Will the member give way on that point?

Mike Rumbles

I will not, just now.

The bill should be a great opportunity to tackle decline in bus use. Unfortunately, I do not agree with the cabinet secretary that the Government has been ambitious on the matter. I agree with John Finnie that it is not exactly a “crusading” bill.

On one hand, the Government wishes to amend the Transport Act 1985 to allow local authorities to set up their own bus services. On the face of it, that is a very good idea. However, on the other hand, we are in the curious position in which the Government is saying to our local authorities, “You can set up your own bus company, but there aren’t any more resources available for you to do it, and by the way, you can only run your buses on unprofitable routes.” If those routes were to become profitable, the authorities would have to hand them over to commercial bus companies. What local authority is going to do that? We asked the question in committee and we are still waiting to hear an answer. I cannot see any local authority taking up that offer.

In our view, that is a missed opportunity. The proposal in the bill looks good, but on detailed examination it appears that nothing will change—to paraphrase someone else. Franchising seems to offer a better way forward. However, I am not convinced about the need for an independent panel to oversee local transport authorities. Local democratic control of the process is important, and I am not convinced that an additional hoop for local authorities to jump through is the right approach.

In the short time that is left to me, I will focus on the part of the bill that deals with pavement parking and on the as yet unseen proposal for a workplace parking charge.

The ban on pavement parking is most welcome. However, I have real concerns that the Government has provided a get-out clause in section 47(6)(c), on “Exceptions to parking provisions”, which will for the first time make it legal to obstruct the pavement, for a period of 20 minutes, when loading and unloading. That one provision means that in reality, the attempt to ban obstruction of our pavements will be hopelessly ineffective.

Jamie Greene

Is it therefore Lib Dem policy that there should be no exemptions to the ban on double parking? If so, how on earth is Mike Rumbles expecting to get in and out of taxis?

Mike Rumbles

I am talking about obstruction of pavements.

In our report, the committee makes it clear that it is concerned that the

“20 minutes for loading and unloading of deliveries may have the unintended consequence of creating a national exemption for pavement parking by commercial vehicles.”

Can people imagine how it would be impossible to enforce the law when vehicles are allowed to load and unload like that? In our view, the proposed exemption makes a mockery of the intention behind that provision, so I urge the Government to think again.

Michael Matheson

Can Mike Rumbles clarify whether his view is that there should be no exemption at all or that the 20-minute period is too long for the exemption?

Mike Rumbles

The evidence that we have received in committee is that whatever amount of time is put in the bill, it will be impossible to enforce. At the moment, the law says that vehicles cannot obstruct the pavement.

Michael Matheson

So, does Mike Rumbles want a ban?

Mike Rumbles

That is exactly right. However, if the minister wants to say that there could be an exemption if a certain amount of space was left on the pavement, that would be another matter.

I want to address the unique situation we are in in respect of the proposed workplace parking levy. The Scottish Government will whip its MSPs to support an amendment to the bill that its MSPs have not even seen.

John Finnie

Will the member give way?

Mike Rumbles

I would love to, if I had time.

The Presiding Officer

I am afraid that there is not much time—you have a minute left, tops, Mr Rumbles.

Mike Rumbles

I am sorry, but I cannot take an intervention, as I am in my last minute.

No member of the committee has seen such an amendment, and I understand that not even the Green MSPs have seen it, although it is a Green proposal.

The fact is that the majority of members—that is, all the Scottish National Party and Green members—have been told that they must vote for the amendment when it eventually comes to the committee. No matter what evidence is presented, no matter what drafting problems might be found and no matter what unintended consequences might be seen as a result of detailed scrutiny of the legislation, it will just be voted through by the committee.

I have a lot of respect for the cabinet secretary—I consider him to be a responsible minister, and I do not blame him for something that has been foisted on him—but that is no way to pass legislation. A responsible Government would not behave in that way. I never thought that our strong committee system, as established in 1999, would ever end up being misused in such a way.

The Presiding Officer

We now enter the open part of the debate. I call Stewart Stevenson, to be followed by Peter Chapman.

15:45  

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I declare my honorary presidency of the Scottish Association for Public Transport, which has a keen interest in the topic before us.

I will start with the Labour Party’s desire for perhaps every council in Scotland to take over the running of bus services and some of the financial implications of such a move. I have previously talked about the financial implications of Labour’s proposals for bus passes for the under-25s, and these proposals are equally improbable. The general principle is that, if a franchise is taken away from a business, that business must be compensated not with one year’s profit but with one year’s revenue. That is £700 million or £800 million straight away.

Next, we should take a look at the accounts of Lothian Buses—which is, I should immediately say, an excellent company. Indeed, 100 years ago, my great-uncle Alex was the cabinet member of Edinburgh council with responsibility for it, so it is all probably down to him. What is the capitalisation for Lothian Buses, which covers about 10 per cent of Scotland’s population? The answer, which can be found in the accounts as at 31 December 2017, is £147 million. If I factor that up—which I accept is a very crude way of working and is open to being criticised, but I have nothing better—we get a figure of £1.5 billion. If we then add the £700 million, we are talking about £2.2 billion.

I accept that that is the ceiling, which we certainly would not reach and could not exceed, but it illustrates the general point that, although there are a lot of numbers to look at, there has been almost no talk about those numbers. There is, of course, profit—the dividend comes back—but we need the capitalisation in the first place. It is also worth saying that a local authority would need to buy vehicles either from existing bus companies or from elsewhere, and I suspect that the existing bus companies would not give it a huge discount, given that it would be, in effect, a forced sale. The Labour Party is perfectly entitled to pursue its proposals, but I urge it to produce some numbers based on something more than my—to be blunt—20 minutes of research using the accounts of Lothian Buses—which, I repeat, is an excellent company that I use from time to time with my bus pass.

Colin Smyth

The member has, in effect, slated the idea of local authorities being able to set up bus companies in an unrestricted way, but does he support the Government’s plan to allow them to set up such companies only to meet unmet need? If so, exactly how many local authorities does he think are going to do that?

Stewart Stevenson

I am very clear that the Government’s proposals are good and worthy of support, and there are other proposals from the Labour Party to which I must say to the member that I am not closing my mind. Nevertheless, I must point out to him that, to gain support from across the Parliament, he will have to provide some numbers for the investment and the capitalisation that would be required as well as for the liabilities that would be taken on, particularly in relation to pensions as people were brought across from commercial companies under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981. I simply urge the member to produce some numbers, because he might then persuade more of us who have yet to be persuaded.

On the bus improvement partnerships, it is fair to say that the previous voluntary and compulsory partnerships have not delivered as I think we had all hoped when we passed the previous legislation. However, I know that the bus companies are cautiously supportive of the new proposals, which is only reasonable, and I am certainly prepared to be cautiously supportive of them, too.

I think that we can do more on bus lanes. It should be compulsory for all bus lanes to operate 24 hours a day. We should also enforce them better. Once we do that, bus journey times will be consistent and people would rely on them more.

On parking, it is important that we respect the needs of those with reduced mobility, particularly those who are blind, who may walk into vehicles that are parked on pavements because they simply do not see them. Dropped kerbs are an issue for blind people, too, because they need a clear delineation between pavement and road.

On loading and unloading, I make a rather obvious suggestion: someone should be able to load and unload only if they have an indicator on their windscreen that is adjusted to show at what time they parked the vehicle. That is done in other countries, by the way—there is nothing particularly novel about that.

Mike Rumbles

Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson

I am in my last minute—do forgive me.

In conclusion, I will mention the workplace parking levy. Like others, I have not seen the proposed amendment, and the whips have not yet approached me to tell me what I have to say or do on the subject. However, I will say this: there are different ways of introducing such a levy. I encourage John Finnie to consider that I am reluctant to support any measure that puts a cost on individual citizens but I might be prepared to support a measure that puts the cost on those who provide the parking. In other words, if the charge is on companies, that is fair enough, but if the charge is on individuals, that is a much more difficult ask for me.

I have no hesitation in saying that I will support this excellent bill come decision time tonight.

15:51  

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

Like my REC Committee colleagues, I thank the clerks and everyone who attended the committee during evidence sessions to help us to write our stage 1 report.

It is clear that, across the chamber, although we all appreciate what the bill tries to do, on the whole, it lacks ambition and, if it is to achieve its aims, it will need to be amended as it proceeds.

I agree with the bill’s general principles. Climate change and air quality have been discussed numerous times in the chamber over the past two weeks alone, and those are key drivers of the bill. The bill is large, covering six main aspects relating to transport. Time does not allow me to comment on all six, so I will discuss low-emission zones and bus services.

Part 1 would create a legal right for local authorities to establish, operate, amend and revoke low-emission zones. That key instrument is designed to reduce congestion and improve air quality in Scotland’s four main cities, including, of course, Dundee and Aberdeen, which are in the North East region. A low-emission zone would restrict vehicles in the area to those that met specified emission standards, and anyone driving a car in an LEZ that did not meet the standard or that was not exempt would be fined. However, the bill lacks clarity. A clear definition of what an LEZ is and what its objectives should be are needed. It will be necessary for the Scottish Government to lodge an appropriate amendment at stage 2 to bring that clarity.

The effective introduction of LEZs will require improvements to public transport provision. Measures such as park-and-ride facilities and improved active travel opportunities will need to be put in place. Educating the public about why a zone is important and the benefits that it will deliver will be essential to getting drivers to buy in to the concept. There must also be a robust appeals process to address queries on penalties and circumstances when drivers require to access the zone in an emergency. To avoid confusion and encourage compliance, there must also be consistency across the country about which vehicles can enter an LEZ.

The regulations must clearly set out minimum technical emission standards. Standardised signage and a comprehensive package of information must be provided by local authorities at all stages of introduction, to allow people sufficient time to prepare for the changes. There will also be a cost implication for business and individual motorists should they need to upgrade their vehicles. As is often the case, that would impact most heavily on those on lower incomes.

Part 2 addresses issues to do with bus services and focuses on concerns about the long-term decline in bus use across Scotland. That decline is being driven by many factors including the reduction in direct bus support in rural areas and congestion in towns. The lack of appropriate infrastructure such as bus lanes is leading to slow average speeds and long and slow journeys. The current provisions in the bill to allow councils to run their own bus services will not, in my opinion, deliver. We heard, during evidence sessions, that few local authorities are likely to have the financial resources or the expertise to take advantage of the options that are set out in the bill. Indeed, Aberdeenshire Council has recently axed several services in rural areas due to a lack of funding.

The bill would amend the Transport Act 1985 to allow a local authority to provide local bus services where there is an unmet public transport need. The committee felt that that was too restrictive and recommended an amendment at stage 2 to allow greater flexibility. I disagreed with that, however, because, if councils get involved where there is already adequate bus provision, they may trigger a bus war with the company that is already supplying the services, and bus wars never end well.

The bill also proposes replacing statutory bus quality partnerships with bus service improvement partnerships, which involve two elements. That change is generally welcomed, but local authorities question whether they will be able to join such a partnership due to constraints on time and resources. The Scottish Government has, thankfully, provided further information that clears up some of the confusion about how BSIPs will work in practice and how they will differ from the previous scheme. However, that clarity is lacking in the bill as it is drafted.

Another initiative that the bill would allow is bus service franchising. However, it was felt that, in practice, only a small number of local authorities would have the time or resources to establish a framework. It is obvious to me that many of the schemes for bus services that are on offer in the bill will be taken up only if the Government is prepared to put additional funds at the disposal of councils.

Other sections of the bill that I have not had time to discuss cover smart ticketing schemes, pavement parking, road works and canals. We expect to work with stakeholders during stage 2 to further amend those sections as appropriate. There is also the workplace parking levy, which is due to be added to the bill at stage 2. It will evoke much debate in the committee, and the Conservative Party will oppose it. We can never support taxing people to drive to and park at their work. It will be interesting to see how Mr Lyle responds when we discuss that in committee.

The bill has merit, but it is by no means ready to be implemented as legislation. I am committed to working with all committee members at stage 2 to scrutinise all amendments that will strengthen and improve the bill and provide more guidance to local authorities and greater reassurance to the public and small business owners.

15:58  

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

As the cabinet secretary said, this is a wide-ranging bill, covering a range of distinct policy areas. However, I agree with members who have said that it is not nearly ambitious enough.

I will focus my remarks on public transport and those sections of the bill relating to how the bus market in this country operates, because Scotland’s bus market is broken. Bus services are in decline and the deregulated model has failed. Instead of seeing a competitive market for bus services in which fare-paying passengers are in the driving seat, a patchwork of local monopolies has emerged across the country.

Since 2007, the total number of bus journeys is down by almost 100 million, and 64 million vehicle kilometres have been stripped out of our bus network. Meanwhile, fares keep rising, doing so more in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. In fact, the relative cost of bus travel has increased more than any other mode of land transport over the past 30 years, and by more than double the retail prices index.

It is clear that we need radical change. It is also clear that only where bus services are run on different principles do bus operators buck the trend, with higher passenger satisfaction, slower rates of decline and more profit reinvested in the bus network—in London, where the bus market is regulated to a high standard, or right here in Edinburgh, as we have heard, where Lothian Buses is publicly owned and democratically accountable.

The Scottish Government says that the purpose of part 2 of the bill is to ensure that local authorities

“have viable and flexible options to improve bus services in their areas.”

If that is to mean anything, those options must include a realistic route to collective ownership. Local government must have the power to challenge and to replace the broken and failed deregulated system. Councils and communities must be empowered to form democratically controlled operators and to work with community transport organisations. Scottish Labour members of the Scottish Parliament will seek to amend the bill to strengthen Scotland’s bus laws, make municipal and common ownership a reality, promote community transport, recognise that bus routes are essentially community assets that should be protected as such, and give the passengers and communities who depend on public transport a real say. We should have a people’s bus service that is run for passengers, not profit.

If members want to know why that is so important, I will give them an example from my region. Changes by Glasgow CityBus will see the 142 Bishopbriggs circular service withdrawn because of a commercial decision that has been taken by a private operator. There has been no consultation or engagement with the community. The problem is that there are plenty of hurdles that transport authorities have to jump in order to provide a subsidised service, but apparently none for privately owned operators who seek to withdraw bus services entirely. Local councillor Alan Moir, who argues that the 142 service should be retained, tells me that 70 per cent of people who use the lifeline service are concession card holders. The deregulated market pays no regard to the social impact of withdrawing the 142 bus from this community and many others. That is why we have to shift power from the owners of the bus companies to our communities, as Colin Smyth has said.

Scottish Labour will seek to ensure that the hurdles to providing subsidised services through local government are not in place in relation to municipal ownership. Local authorities should be allowed to run services as a matter of principle, and not just in instances of unmet need. That would allow other parts of the country to benefit from the successful Lothian model, where profits are reinvested. It would also allow local, publicly owned bus companies to compete freely for any service or franchise that may be created in future. I have long supported London-style bus franchising powers—which I believe should be granted automatically—coming to local government in Scotland. Just as the Scottish Government should provide a realistic route to common ownership, it should provide one to a London-style system.

On the issue of funding, there have been substantial reforms to the bus service operators grant in England and Wales: £93 million is now paid directly to Transport for London in the regulated market there. As a nation, Scotland already subsidises the bus industry to the extent that 45 per cent of operators’ income comes from the public purse. In addition to funding local government fairly, the Scottish Government should review its funding for bus services to ensure that the provisions in part 2 of the bill are viable.

Every Scottish Labour MSP stood on a manifesto that promised that we would make it

“cheaper and easier to get to work.”

It is for that reason that Scottish Labour welcomes any progress on smart ticketing and integrated public transport. There should be a single multimodal smart ticketing system that can be used across all modes of public transport in Scotland. It is for the same reason that we believe that we cannot support a workplace parking levy. As Colin Smyth said, that is a regressive levy that workers would not be able to avoid and that would hit low-paid workers the hardest.

Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time, and vehicle emissions in our city centres are a public health concern, but the solutions do not have to be complicated. We already know what the answers are. What is required is a modal shift towards public transport. Low-emission zones must not exist in isolation. Better bus services will not just enhance public transport; they will also help us to reduce vehicle emissions.

For all those reasons, we must seek to strengthen the bill at stage 2 to assert the importance of public transport as a public service.

16:04  

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I am not a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, but I appeared before its predecessor, and the then Local Government and Regeneration Committee, on a number of occasions in connection with my proposed responsible parking bill, which I introduced as the Footway Parking and Double Parking (Scotland) Bill. I thank those committees for listening to me. I also thank all those who gave evidence on the Transport (Scotland) Bill or who worked on it—not just on the parking aspect—very intensively.

We have been pushing for a responsible parking bill, or for the issue to be included in a transport bill, for about 10 years, so I am delighted to be here to talk about the bill. I thank former MSP Ross Finnie who first tried to introduce such a bill about nine years ago, Joe FitzPatrick—whose bill I took over—and the many people and at least 20 charities and organisations, including lots of disability and social care charities, that came together with Living Streets Scotland in the responsible parking alliance, which did an enormous amount of work to help me when I was developing my bill. My bill had a very large number of responses—one of the biggest—for a consultation on a bill.

I have listened to the various discussions about the bill and I agree with a number of the committee’s recommendations, particularly with regard to the amendment on dropped kerbs—I fully endorse what the committee has to say about that. My original bill included not just parking but the issue of dropped kerbs, which desperately needs to be looked at. I will give members a little bit of history about the first stage of my bill. Believe it or not, this Parliament did not have the powers—not only when Ross Finnie and Joe FitzPatrick were working on their proposed bills—to introduce any bills about blocked kerbs, dropped kerbs or responsible parking, as those issues were not covered in the 1998 or 2012 Scotland Acts. For one reason or another, they could not be included in any form of transport bill. I thank the Scottish Government—I believe that it was Derek Mackay, in particular—for introducing the Transport (Scotland) Bill and including in it the issues of my bill. That is fantastic, and it came about as a result of the Smith commission. It has been a long road to get to the point at which we can look at this properly.

Members talk about fines and so on, but I never envisaged the bill as being punitive. It should be educational, so that it teaches drivers that pavements are for people, not cars. I am looking forward to stage 2 of the bill and I hope that there will be an educational element to it, so that there is some form of education—whether on TV or elsewhere—to let drivers and car owners know that it will be coming into force. I do not want it to be punitive; I do not believe that there is a huge number of irresponsible, could-not-care-less, selfish drivers out there. Most of them are responsible.

It is just a matter of educating people about what can happen. We heard in evidence about a blind gentleman who was walking along the street with his white stick, happened to tap a car that was parked on the pavement and the stick broke. That gentleman was left stranded on the pavement for hours until somebody came along. There is the issue of people taking their kids to school or nursery in a pram or buggy and having to go on the road. That is dangerous and it should not be allowed to happen. People must come before cars and, in response to the questionnaires that went out, 95 per cent of people were in agreement with that.

Pavements are for people and roads are for cars, and it is time that people were educated about that. That is why the dropped kerb issue is important. If somebody has parked on the dropped kerb, people who are disabled, blind, elderly or have kids in prams cannot walk along the pavement and cross the road at that point. It is about being sensible.

I thank members of the committee for the amount of work that they have put into the issues, and for putting up with some of the evidence that I brought to them. I understand about having to load and unload, which was mentioned by the Road Haulage Association. The subject was also raised at one of the committee meetings at which I gave evidence. There are, however, areas where it says, “No loading” or, “Only loading”, so it is the policing of loading that is important. If people are getting something delivered, of course it has to be delivered to that place. Shops have to get deliveries, but it has to be done sensibly so that the delivery vehicles are not left across the whole pavement. That means education more than anything.

Not being a member of the committee, I am grateful to be able to speak in the debate. I look forward to stage 2 and stage 3, and to having responsible parking so that people can walk on the pavements.

16:10  

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I am grateful to be able to contribute to this stage 1 debate, particularly given that many people who live in the Highlands and Islands see public transport as a lifeline service, not just as an alternative to other modes of travel. Indeed, many rural and remote communities rely especially on robust and timely public transport and infrastructure to carry out daily tasks, get to work, attend hospital appointments and connect with friends and family. Whether it is people in our island communities who need a ferry service that runs on time and has enough space and capacity for passengers and vehicles or good local bus services to connect people from rural communities to Scotland’s major cities, strong transport links are plainly good for society and the economy.

As Scottish Conservative colleagues have commented, we support the general principles of the bill and, as many of my colleagues have intimated, we feel that there are a lot of positive elements in the bill, as well as some missed opportunities. In the time that is available to me, I want to focus on a particular area that I feel the bill could address slightly more: accessible transport and the needs of passengers suffering from disability.

Accessible transport is vital for many people across Scotland, particularly elderly and disabled people, but it is also important for other people, including parents travelling with young children. The experience of travel is important, too. Travelling to a station or bus stop, interacting with the surroundings, purchasing tickets and using various facilities are all elements of the travelling experience that must be viewed through the prism of accessibility.

I want to cover a few of those elements in greater detail. I had the benefit last year of hosting a round-table discussion for stakeholders, including the Scottish Accessible Transport Alliance, Bus Users Scotland, and the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland, at an event in the Parliament that I organised. The former transport minister Humza Yousaf attended, and I place on record my thanks to him for the interest that he showed in this issue. There were about 20 delegates from a multitude of organisations, who had different ideas, considerations and views on how the accessible transport experience in Scotland should look in the short and long term. It was a very valuable experience, and I had hoped that some of the suggestions might have been carried forward.

For example, one issue that arose at the round-table event was the design of vehicles. I heard various concerns about step access, the size of disabled buttons on new train stock, restrictive loop systems and poorly designed access to toilets. As a result, it may be that one of the things that can be considered at stage 2 is the issue of vehicle design.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said in its submission on the bill that it recommends

“that disability access is named as a service standard to which all proposed vehicles used are subject to”.

In its summary of recommendations and conclusions, the REC Committee stated:

“the ability to access transport can play a fundamental role in how a person can contribute to and participate in society. It notes the suggestions made on the bill from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and asks the Scottish Government to reflect on and respond to these in detail before Stage 2 of the Bill.”

I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government listens to that recommendation and acts on it, because it is crucial that people have confidence on the issue in the future.

I am also particularly concerned about this issue because of a local aspect to the matter, which involved the resignation of Arthur Cowie from the chairmanship of the Scottish Accessible Transport Alliance over the redesign of the trains operating on the west Highland line. I know Arthur well, as we worked together last year in organising the round-table event that I mentioned. He is incredibly passionate about accessible transport, and his resignation from that role should be noted. In an article in The Scotsman in February, Arthur said:

“Recent actions by ScotRail and Transport Scotland have made me realise I have been wasting my time over the last 40 years in trying to achieve accessible travel, and have been played for a fool by the transport authorities over this period.”

I find that to be a particularly concerning indictment, and I hope that the Government listens to those views with respect to the bill.

I am concerned that the issue of cars parking across dropped kerbs has not been adequately addressed. The issue was mentioned by Sandra White and other members, and by Edward Mountain on behalf of the REC Committee. Apart from the obvious problems that parking across dropped kerbs can cause for most road users, it is particularly inconsiderate and problematic for many elderly and disabled pedestrians, who rely heavily on open dropped kerbs. I welcome the fact that the REC Committee report states:

“a prohibition of parking across such formally recognised crossing points (as distinct from residential driveways) would provide a package of measures which would more comprehensively enhance accessibility in urban areas.”

Again, I hope that the Scottish Government takes cognisance of that.

The Scottish Conservatives support the bill at stage 1. We agree that there is a need to adopt new practices and to ensure that transport meets our environmental commitments and we have a long-term plan that is fit for Scotland today and beyond. As a party, we will scrutinise the bill as it goes forward. As my colleagues who have spoken thus far have suggested, although there are areas of the bill that can be improved, we generally support it.

For my part, I hope that greater consideration will be given to accessibility issues, so that Scotland can lead the way in that crucial area. Ultimately, every individual who uses public transport in Scotland should have the same choice, freedom and dignity to travel. I hope that, as the bill progresses, we can make that happen.

16:16  

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

First, I should say that I am more than happy to support the bill. It covers a number of areas, and I will focus my remarks on pavement parking and the workplace parking levy.

There is no question but that we have a problem with pavement parking, which is when a car is parked fully or partly on a pavement to the extent that a wheelchair or pram could not get past. That is obstruction and, although the police have the power to enforce the law on that, in practice that seldom happens. In an ideal world, there would be plenty of space for completely clear pavements, lanes for cycling, space for parking and plenty of room for large vehicles to pass on the road itself. Unfortunately, many roads in Glasgow and elsewhere do not have space for all that. My fear is that forcing cars entirely on to the road surface would cause obstructions for public transport and emergency vehicles and so on. I do not think that any of us wants that.

Although there is a problem at the moment, there are also many considerate drivers who put two wheels on the pavement in order to avoid blocking either the road or the pavement. In fact, that is sometimes encouraged by council road markings that are designed to ensure that the road itself does not become blocked. I wonder, then, whether some compromise is needed. Perhaps it would be better for the rule to be that at least 1.5m of pavement must be left clear of vehicles, which would allow adequate space for wheelchairs and prams. If the pavement was less than 1.5m wide, no vehicle wheels would be allowed on the pavement at all. That would also have the advantage of being cheaper than the proposals in the bill. Although the bill would allow exemptions, I suspect that, because of the cost of introducing them, councils would resist doing so as widely as they should.

I am also concerned that, whatever the rules are, they are unlikely to be widely enforced. Experience in Glasgow already shows that, although parking on double yellow lines or parking that causes an obstruction is against the law, in many cases the law is not enforced. The bill proposes powers for local authorities to enforce the law, and the Government says on page 26 of its response to the stage 1 report that that is a duty. However, I fear that that will not happen in practice. Linked to enforcement is the question of whether fines are sufficient for councils to cover their costs, such as the cost of paying wardens.

Sandra White

Enforcement was one of the areas that I was going to comment on. I am also worried about what will happen if we make it known that anyone can park on the pavement, even if it is just with two wheels. There are large stretches of road in my constituency, which covers the city centre, and I would worry that there would be cars constantly parked on the pavements, which would mean that anyone with a pram or a disability would have a long distance to walk before they could get off the pavement. I do not want to encourage people to park on pavements at all.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

I will give Mr Mason his time back.

John Mason

That is kind; thank you.

I accept that there are differences in different parts of the city. Streets in the city centre, such as Hope Street, where I have seen cars parked on double yellow lines that are not enforced, are slightly different from most of my constituency, which is further out. However, we must somehow find a compromise.

The second main topic that I will focus on is the workplace parking levy. As Mike Rumbles said, there are unusual circumstances in that the workplace parking levy has become part of the budget agreement and we expect to see an amendment to introduce it at stage 2. It is not normal to see such a major new issue appear at stage 2, and it is not ideal. Stage 1 is when a committee carries out a thorough examination of the main features of any bill, and I believe that the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee carried out such an examination of the bill as introduced. There was an argument that, in order to take evidence on the levy, the committee could have postponed the completion of its report, but it was decided to press ahead with stage 1 and deal with the amendment as part of stage 2.

In principle, I am comfortable with a levy that targets directors and other highly paid individuals who have a parking space in the city centre, when they could easily use a train or bus for commuting to their 9-to-5 jobs, but I have a lot of questions about the proposed levy. We know that the provisions in the bill will only be enabling legislation and that it will be up to councils to decide whether they want it or not, but we do not know at what level the charge would be, whether it would apply to the employer or employee or what exemptions there might be. It has been suggested that NHS hospitals might be exempt. What about care homes, hospices, general practices, social work, the police and out-of-town factories where the workers do shifts? Should it be extended to out-of-town shopping centres, so that shoppers would pay to park and thereby help to protect our town centres? I look forward to seeing the amendment and to taking evidence in the committee, when I hope that those types of question will be clarified.

Another issue that has been raised is whether there would be any advantage in commercial bus services being publicly owned. I certainly regret that Strathclyde was forced to privatise its buses, while Lothian was allowed to keep its buses. However, when we had Strathclyde Buses and before that, Glasgow Corporation Transport, Scottish Motor Traction—SMT—and the Scottish Bus Group, there were still frequent complaints about bus services. For example, in Rutherglen, the complaint was that all the buses ran to Castlemilk and ignored Rutherglen.

However, we had evidence that bus usage has been in decline in the west of Scotland since before 1960—long before any privatisation. Therefore, although I am sympathetic to public ownership and I think that we should consider it, we must be wary about assuming that it would automatically lead to increased or improved services. The fall in bus usage is complex; it is linked to a desire for cars and to improved train services in the Glasgow area.

I am more than happy to support the principles of the Transport (Scotland) Bill. It is clear that we will see one major amendment—and probably a host of other amendments—at stage 2. We will have to see what happens then.

16:22  

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

It has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. Members have made contributions on issues ranging from pavement parking to low-emission zones. That shows the wide range of subjects that the bill covers.

I want to concentrate on buses, which is where the bill comes up short. In the area that I represent, there is no doubt that buses are very much required by commuters. They are required to get to work, for social purposes and to travel to hospitals. In recent years, bus services have been concentrated—a small number of companies focus on the more profitable routes, particularly around the city centre, and by the time we get to Rutherglen, which John Mason mentioned, or further, to Cambuslang, Halfway and Blantyre, the routes are not as well populated by buses.

Another trend that we have seen in recent years is bus companies shutting the routes in off-peak periods, particularly in the evening. That can be a problem, particularly for people who are perhaps travelling to visit people in hospital. To explain why that is happening, we need to examine the trend. One of the astonishing numbers that I came across in preparing for the debate was that, back in 2007, there were 487 million bus journeys in Scotland, but that figure has reduced by nearly 100 million to 388 million; so, there are now 100 million fewer bus journeys per year than there were 10 years ago.

There are a number of reasons for that. First, fares have increased by 18 per cent in the past five years, so it is more expensive for people to travel by bus. There are also fewer buses—with 10 per cent less stock and 2 per cent fewer staff—and bus companies are contracting in size in terms of both infrastructure and numbers, which feeds through to the routes. The reduction in the bus service operators grant, which Colin Smyth described, also contributes, and the overall picture of reduced local government funding has not helped local authorities to subsidise less-profitable routes.

The picture that that paints is one of decline in the use of bus services and an increase in bus companies’ power over communities in respect of their ability to either run or cancel routes. That seems unfair, particularly given that 35 per cent of journeys are made under the concessionary travel scheme, through which the Scottish Government makes a major contribution to free bus travel. The logic of that would be to give more power to communities and to look to a model that supports municipal bus companies.

Ultimately, we need to get back to a position where communities and councils have greater control of bus routes in order to ensure that their bus routes and bus companies serve them.

Ticketing and data are another interesting area, which sounds technical but could help—the get Glasgow moving group provided a good briefing on that. Over the years, there has been a lot of discussion about smart ticketing and having one ticket to cover different companies and different modes of transport, but the reality is that movement on that has been far too slow. It could help by providing ease of travel for customers and allowing for the collection of data. If we are to organise bus routes in an efficient manner that serves customers well, we need more information about fares, routes and usage. Smart ticketing and better collection of data would help to service that.

Finally, I turn to the workplace parking levy. There are two issues with it. First, it is fundamentally unfair. I just read a quotation from a senior Scottish Government minister, talking about free prescriptions, who said that it is unfair to tax ill health. By the same token, how is it fair to tax people driving to their work?

John Finnie

Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The member is in his last minute—in fact, he is in his last 30 seconds.

James Kelly

I am sorry—I have only half a minute left.

The second issue with the workplace parking levy, which even Mr Mason acknowledged, is that it is quite a big change in Government policy. It is one of the more controversial measures that the Scottish National Party has introduced in the past 12 years and it is wrong for it to come in at stage 2 of a bill. If the Government genuinely wanted to bring it forward, it should have run a consultation on it and sought people’s view on it, instead of ramming it through as part of a budget deal. There are big issues to resolve at stage 2.

16:29  

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I thank the clerks for their work on the Rural Environment and Connectivity Committee report, and I welcome and support the bill at stage 1.

It is especially important for everyone to take note of part 1 of the bill, which covers low-emission zones—an important matter that gives the bill great purpose. I am concerned about the poor air quality in certain areas and that is why I want to deliver for the people of Scotland a bill that meets their needs and looks after their health. It is anticipated that the bill will accomplish that.

We should make great efforts to improve the health of the people of Scotland by putting forth a bill that strives to reduce air pollution. The bill will do that by prohibiting vehicles that do not meet emission standards from driving in low-emission zones. I welcome low-emission zones because I sincerely believe that the people of Scotland deserve to live free from health problems that are caused by poor air quality and that we could achieve that by enforcing low-emission zones. We should deliberately plan to prevent any unintended repercussions that would undermine our goal, such as the suspension of an LEZ; I believe that a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week LEZ should mean exactly that, as the British Lung Foundation suggested.

Our efforts and care should be extended to our local businesses. That is why I believe that part 2 of the bill, which covers bus services in Scotland, is also essential. The provisions aim to help local councils, by giving them options that will help them to enhance bus services in their area. Part 2 also strives to provide more innovative ways to address bus service issues. I was previously a councillor, and I have always believed that councils could do more with regard to bus services.

The decline of bus use in Scotland is visible and is a problem that concerns the committee and me. It could, and should, be tackled if Scotland is to reverse that trend. To do so, we must address the problem by looking at affordable solutions. I sincerely believe that, if more of our constituents were able to access our bus services, we would have more productive members of society and that we would bestow them with the opportunity to give back to Scotland.

The Transport (Scotland) Bill is a piece of legislation that attempts to help Scotland and its people: it is a start. Moreover, the bill will improve the daily lives of our citizens by providing a solution to our pavement parking issue. Indeed, pedestrians must be protected, and the bill will ensure that pavement parking is addressed.

We need to restrict pavement parking to protect our citizens from harm. Pavement parking is dangerous for all pedestrians, including those with sight loss. In fact, the Guide Dogs Scotland survey, which I thank the organisation for providing, found that nine out of 10 people with sight loss have had problems with cars that are parked on the pavement. Obstructions on the pavement are not just an inconvenience but a barrier to people being able to fully participate in our society. The obstruction prevents people with sight loss from moving freely, which increases feelings of isolation; people with disabilities and buggy users are also affected.

The bill will make pavement parking an offence except, of course, on a limited number of streets that are exempted by the council. However, the aim of the legislation should be that pavement parking is a total exception, not a norm. I suggest that pavement parking should be minimised in line with the ask of Guide Dogs Scotland. The bill responds to the request of our citizens, who showed 83 per cent support for new legislation that tackles pavement parking.

We make laws to improve the lives of all our citizens, including citizens with sight loss, and that is what part 4 of the bill should be about.

Mike Rumbles

Will the member take an intervention?

Richard Lyle

I am sorry, but I do not have time.

As a member of the committee, I believe that we should listen to the views of Guide Dogs Scotland with regard to loading and unloading. I am sure that the issue will be resolved during the next stage, following discussion with Guide Dogs Scotland.

I will raise a final issue, in respect of which I declare an interest as the convener of the cross-party group on the Scottish Showmen’s Guild. I voice my support for giving a limited exemption to showmen. At stage 2 of the bill, consideration should be given to having an exemption for showpeople who are travelling through a low-emission zone. Traditionally, showmen have been acknowledged as a special case and have exemptions in other areas. Historically—I sound like Mr Stevenson—showpeople were first granted concessionary rates of taxation in 1927. The Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 modified those concessions but kept the exemption for the “showman’s goods vehicle”. I will support a preservation of those reliefs for showpeople at stage 2 and will try to ensure that that happens.

I support the bill, which aims to have greater efficiency in pollution control, strives to improve our bus services and will solve our issues regarding pavement parking. I look forward to the next stage of the bill, when we will be looking at the workplace parking levy.

16:34  

Colin Smyth

Transport impacts on many aspects of our constituents’ lives, from their health to the environment to poverty. It accounts for more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, with levels currently the same as they were in 1990. It is a key cause of air pollution, which last year hit illegal levels in eight areas in Scotland.

Cars are by far the biggest polluters in the sector. However, ultra-low-emission vehicles still make up less than 1 per cent of road vehicles, bus usage has plummeted by 20 per cent in the last 10 years under the SNP Government and bus fares have risen by 17 per cent above inflation. The proportion of journeys made on foot has fallen since last year, and just 1.5 per cent of journeys are made by bike.

As the Poverty Alliance has highlighted, the most disadvantaged are hit hardest by those changes: young people are being priced out of travelling to education or work by spiralling bus fares, and older adults and disabled people are being isolated by the axing of local bus services.

The bill is an opportunity to meet those challenges head on and to move towards a modern, green, accessible transport system. It is an opportunity to set out a vision for transport and to establish the legal framework that will underpin our values and ambitions for public transport as a real public service. As the debate has shown, the bill as it stands fails to achieve that.

Several speakers including Mike Rumbles, John Finnie, Peter Chapman, Richard Lyle and others talked about low-emission zones—albeit they had different views. The bill sets out a much-needed and largely reasonable framework for LEZs. Amendments will be needed if we are to ensure that the legislation is effective and future proofed. That means having a statutory definition to provide clarity and make clear that the purpose of an LEZ is to ensure that air pollution is lower than it would be if an LEZ had not been introduced. That may seem obvious. However, when we consider the generous grace periods in the bill and the natural lifespan of cars, there is a real risk of local authorities introducing LEZs that ultimately do not have any real effect. LEZs will be weakened further if they can be suspended or are not operated on a continuous 24/7 basis; Richard Lyle highlighted that.

Air pollution costs around 2,500 lives each year in Scotland. It is an urgent public health crisis, but one that the bill fails to recognise fully. As Neil Bibby, James Kelly, John Finnie, Mike Rumbles and Jamie Greene recognised, the bill also fails to recognise the urgent crisis that we face on our bus network by allowing councils to run only the bus services that the private sector does not want to run. Not a single council in Scotland has shown any interest in doing that.

It is no coincidence that Lothian Buses, Scotland’s only municipal bus company, has seen its passenger numbers grow, while patronage elsewhere plummets, or that it has a 95 per cent customer satisfaction rate and some of the lowest fares in Scotland. That is the outcome of a model that prioritises passengers over profits, encourages social responsibility and delivers millions of pounds a year back into the public purse to be reinvested in public transport. It is unsustainable of the Government to believe that the bill should prevent the rest of Scotland from pursuing such a model.

Several members highlighted the fact that, as the bill stands, the provisions on ticketing arrangements and schemes do not go far enough—they do not even deliver the national multimodal smart card that the Government promised back in 2012. The establishment of a new national technological standard and the national smart ticketing advisory board are welcome, but we need to give the board the legally binding remit to deliver a single ticketing scheme across Scotland and across transport modes.

There was general consensus that pavement parking is an inconvenience for disabled people and that action is needed to tackle that. However, several members said that such action should be extended to include a ban on parking in cycle lanes and next to dropped kerbs—that point was made by Sandra White and Donald Cameron.

There was a recognition of the need for reasonable and targeted exemptions to the ban on pavement parking. However, those must not act as loopholes that undermine the ban, which is what the exemption that would allow 20 minutes for delivery and loading does. I fear that allowing parking on pavements with a 1.5m space would also be a loophole and continue to present a hazard for those with a visual impairment.

The bill also gives councils the power to enforce the new regulations. That point has not yet been covered, so I will spend a couple of minutes talking about it. That provision means that councils without decriminalised parking enforcement will be required to set up an entire department, which could issue a parking ticket for a car parked on a pavement on one side of the street, but could not issue a ticket for a car parked on a double yellow line on the other side of the street. What an absurd situation for the Government to create. Surely it is not beyond the Government’s ability to bring forward proposals to simplify the decriminalisation process or to extend councils’ enforcement powers to a wider range of traffic offences.

Jamie Greene

Does the member share the view of Scottish Borders Council, which suggests that the proposal simply shifts responsibility for enforcement from the police to local authorities, which do not have the funding and resources for that?

Colin Smyth

Jamie Greene makes a valid point. The biggest problem is the fallout from Police Scotland’s decision to scrap traffic wardens, who dealt with parking problems in our town centres. Now, we see police officers walking by cars that are parked on double yellow lines and not taking action, because the police do not regard that as a priority.

The situation is leading to parking chaos in far too many of our town centres, which is impacting on businesses. The sad reality is that if Police Scotland is not prepared to bring back traffic wardens, the only way to tackle the issue is by giving local authorities enforcement powers. The problem with the bill is that a council that has not decriminalised parking will have to enforce the law on pavement parking but will not have the power to enforce the law when it comes to parking on a double yellow line. That really is an absurd position. For the Government simply to say that councils should bear the huge cost in money and time of applying for decriminalised parking enforcement is not fair. The Government needs to tackle the anomaly.

In the brief time that remains, I want to put on record Labour’s view that the provisions on regional transport agencies and road works are welcome. In particular, we welcome the strengthening of the Scottish road works commissioner’s powers and the provision that makes the safety code mandatory for road authorities.

A number of members mentioned the workplace parking levy, but not a single one of them talked about the regressive nature of a tax that means that a company boss pays the same as a company cleaner.

Stewart Stevenson

Will the member give way?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The member has six seconds.

Colin Smyth

It is unfair that my constituents in South Scotland, who would have to pay the tax, would have no power over its imposition and no power to get any of the money raised spent on public transport.

We support the principles of the bill, but, as I think that all members showed, a lot of work and amendments will be needed to make the bill fit for purpose.

16:42  

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am pleased to close this stage 1 debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I say at the outset that the bill has many laudable aims, so we will support it at stage 1. However, as members have made clear throughout the debate, the bill currently represents something of a missed opportunity.

There is little doubt that Scotland’s transport network and the framework that governs it are in urgent need of renewal and modernisation. What we need is a vision—a real drive to the future.

As has been made clear throughout the debate, and in many of the helpful submissions that have been sent to members, significant gaps remain. For that reason, we are of the view that the bill could go further, so we will be pleased to lodge amendments at stage 2.

I will talk about specific areas of the bill, and will elaborate on the discussion that we have heard throughout the afternoon. First, on low-emission zones, there is no doubt that in many of our cities air quality remains a problem that lowers life expectancy and puts additional pressure on our health service. I live within a mile of Market Street in Aberdeen, which is one of the most polluted streets in Scotland. The transport sector is the largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions and the second-largest source of particulates in Scotland. We recognise the many potential benefits of tackling air pollution in Scotland’s towns and cities, so we are broadly supportive of LEZs and the effect that they seek to achieve.

However, there are issues. I am indebted to a member of the SNP—I shall not name the member, because it was not a public conversation—who pointed out that there is anecdotal evidence that the impact of the Aberdeen western peripheral route on Market Street’s pollution might be considerable. We are waiting for the local authority to report back on that. Further, she pointed out—rightly, in my view—that Market Street’s issues are compounded by the many large ships in the adjacent harbour that keep their engines running. We need to be sure that LEZs are used properly and have the desired effect.

I note the concerns of the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland that the introduction of LEZs could have a direct impact on more than 80,000 businesses in Scotland’s four biggest cities. We need to bear in mind the wide definition of “business”.

Jamie Greene talked about electric taxis costing £60,000, which is a big hit for a self-employed driver, and his point about rural users of diesel and agricultural vehicles was also important.

John Finnie

Does Liam Kerr accept that people are increasingly living in town and city centres, in particular in vacated shops, so LEZs would be a boon to them, never mind to motorists?

Liam Kerr

I recognise that, but that does not detract from my point: LEZs have their place if they are used properly, but I would like the significant concerns about them to be ironed out at stage 2. John Finnie will share my specific concern about the cost to the public purse.

Peter Chapman mentioned Dundee, which would be one of the cities to introduce an LEZ. We should remember that the point is to impose penalties on drivers who bring dirty vehicles within the LEZ’s boundaries. According to a question from Jenny Marra yesterday, at least 100 of Dundee’s buses currently fail to meet basic environmental standards, and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee flagged up that the bus industry has raised concerns that introducing LEZs without sufficient lead-in times could force firms to withdraw services or increase fares. I know that John Finnie will be concerned about that.

The introduction of LEZs has to be done correctly, so I endorse Jamie Greene’s suggestion that we need proper support and/or industry-specific exemptions to aid businesses and individuals, especially vulnerable people, in the transition to new LEZs. We need a clear timetable—which might include phased implementation—new incentives to encourage take-up of compliant vehicles, support for residents who will reside within the LEZs, and investment to enhance public transport and active travel routes.

Pavement parking is a real problem, so I am pleased that the bill addresses it. Richard Yule mentioned the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, and having experienced a blindfolded walk with a guide dog in Forfar and having consulted constituents in Aberdeen who are mobile only through using wheelchairs, I know that there is a definite need to address the issue. Cars that are parked on pavements can force people to walk into the road, which is especially dangerous for blind and partially sighted people, and for people with reduced mobility, older people and families with pushchairs.

However, I again share Jamie Greene’s concern that although inconsiderate parking must be tackled, a blanket ban with no room for exemptions by local authorities—remember, they know their communities best—might be too much of a catch-all approach. There has to be room for a compromise, such that we strike a balance between protecting vulnerable pedestrians and allowing harmless pavement parking to continue. I agree with the committee that a limited amount of pavement parking could be permitted in specific areas, provided that a specified minimum amount of pavement space remains.

I heard Edward Mountain talk about Cycling Scotland’s briefing, and whether it would be appropriate to extend the provisions in the bill to cover cycleways. Sandra White and Donald Cameron talked powerfully about new protections for dropped-kerb crossing points. There is a great deal of merit in those proposals, so I endorse the calls for the Scottish Government to consider whether such extensions would be appropriate.

I will make some brief comments on the workplace parking levy. I cannot but oppose it, because I cannot see how it can be right to charge workers £500 just to park at their place of work.

John Finnie

I do not know where Liam Kerr got that figure from. Will he acknowledge that his party’s UK Government reviewed the policies that were available to local authorities in England and Wales and considered that they are appropriate? Why does he want fundraising powers for local authorities in England, but not for those in Scotland?

Liam Kerr

Only one council has used the power. We are talking about what is right for Scotland. The significant point is the number of objections that have been raised—not the least of which is from the Scottish Police Federation, which suggests that the proposal could compromise not only public safety, but the safety of our brave police officers. I know that that will concern John Finnie. We must listen to those voices.

Perhaps uniquely, I completely associate myself with Colin Smyth’s comments. His points were absolutely spot on—as were James Kelly’s, to be fair—about commuters from outside cities paying, to no local benefit, under a fundamentally inequitable policy. That point was well made. Richard Yule seemed to miss out a bit of his speech, so I wonder whether he would like to intervene on me right now and restate his view that he will never vote for the policy. Would you care to do so, Mr Yule?

Richard Lyle

My name is not Richard Yule; it is Richard Lyle.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I ask members to conduct exchanges through the chair rather than across the chamber.

Liam Kerr

Mr Lyle seems to be reluctant to accept my invitation, so I will not push the point.

It is clear from this afternoon’s debate, the committee’s report and the many submissions that groups have sent to members in advance of the debate, that the bill is laudable. It includes many good principles, including a focus on the environment and support for bus services, which is not an issue that I have had time to summarise, although Mike Rumbles and Peter Chapman looked at it in detail and were highly persuasive.

I have my doubts about whether the bill goes far enough or is ambitious enough, but I confirm that we will support its general principles at stage 1, and I look forward to working collaboratively on a cross-party basis to drive improvements in Scotland’s transport network.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Michael Matheson to wind up the debate for the Government.

16:50  

Michael Matheson

I welcome the contributions from across the chamber, in which members have touched on a range of issues in the bill. In his opening comments, Edward Mountain mentioned the limited amount of time that has been allocated to the debate, given the bill’s complexity and the range of issues that it covers, and I have some sympathy with that point. So great is the range of topics that the bill covers, I had to canter through my opening speech in an effort to touch on as many of them as possible.

I want to pick up on some of the issues that have been raised. I take exception to Mr Greene’s suggestion that, in some way, the bill is not an ambitious bill. I think that he got confused between the need for legislation and the need for a strategy to take forward legislative provisions. As I said at the outset of my opening speech, the bill is only one element of the wider range of measures that need to be taken to tackle a range of transport issues. The review of the national transport strategy will be critical to making sure that we achieve not only the benefits that can come from the bill but the goal of improving Scotland’s transport infrastructure and transport services, which is a much more ambitious agenda. I am sure that Mr Greene will wait with bated breath to read the draft of the national transport strategy and that, when it is published, he will share it with Mr Kerr, who also seems to have confused legislation and strategy.

A key issue is the provision of low-emission zones. It is clear that there is a need for us to take appropriate action to address pollution and poor air quality in our town centres, especially in our big cities. LEZs, which Edward Mountain, Jamie Greene, Mike Rumbles, John Finnie and Colin Smyth, among others, talked about, can assist us in doing that.

One issue that was raised was the need for a standardised approach to such zones. Edward Mountain correctly reflected what I said in my evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, which I repeated in my response to the committee’s stage 1 report. Our intention is to have consistency on how low-emission zones are applied. We want the truck, the bus or the car that is compliant in the Glasgow LEZ to also be compliant in the LEZs in Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. We want a consistent approach to be taken to the standards that will be applied. We are setting out the relevant provisions in regulations to give us the flexibility to adapt those standards as things progress and we move on from Euro 6 and Euro 4 engines. That will mean that, as technology develops, we can amend the regulations instead of having to come back to the primary legislation. We will be able to adapt the standards much more quickly and flexibly through regulations as the new zones bed in and technology progresses.

Stewart Stevenson

The second pollutant on the list that is provided in the Government’s “Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to A Healthier Future” is sulphur dioxide. The issue of vessels continuing to run their engines in harbours adjacent to populated areas is a real one, because that is the big source of sulphur dioxide. Will the cabinet secretary work with the UK Government to reduce the sulphur in marine fuels, which might help?

Michael Matheson

The member makes a good point. There are new and emerging technologies in the marine industry that could help to address that issue and we will continue to pursue the matter with the UK Government.

The issue of air quality was raised by Peter Chapman and John Finnie. The LEZs do not sit on their own in relation to improving air quality in our city centres. A key part of what we are seeking to do with LEZs is to help to introduce a range of other measures to prioritise public transport options. We only have to look at the approach that is being taken by Glasgow City Council, which introduced the first of its LEZs on 31 December 2018—hogmanay. The Glasgow connectivity commission is looking at a range of issues to see how it can improve transport connectivity in greater Glasgow. A key part of that is improving bus provision.

Glasgow’s approach is exactly the approach that LEZs will help to support and achieve elsewhere. It is about that wider and more holistic approach, looking at active travel options, other public transport options and bus prioritisation—all the measures that we know can assist us in improving air quality in our town centres and in improving the attractiveness of public transport and active travel options.

In places such as Glasgow, the average speed of a bus going through the city centre is in the region of 3mph. By providing greater public transport prioritisation in the town centre, the speed could double to 6mph. It would make journey times quicker and bus travel more attractive and the running cost for the bus industry would be lower as well. That is one of the measures that Glasgow is considering.

LEZs are important, but they are one of a range of elements. A number of members have raised issues in relation to the bus industry—in particular, the declining patronage. One of the errors that can be made in trying to tackle some of the challenges around the bus industry is to think that there is some magic wand that can reverse more than four decades of decline in bus patronage. We all know that the reasons for the decline in bus patronage are multifactorial. There is a range of issues that impact on bus patronage. The idea that there is a simple one-off, off-the-shelf solution that will address all the issues is wrong, because of the complexity of the issues. That is why it is important that the bill makes a range of different options available to local authorities so that they can develop an approach that best suits their local circumstances. For some, that may be franchising; for others, it may be a bus service improvement partnership or running their own services.

As I said when I was at committee, I hear the views of those who believe that there should be a provision to enable local authorities to run their own services as and when they like on a municipal basis, as in Lothian. I am not ideologically opposed to that. However, I will sound one note of caution—the suggestion that that is the answer to all our bus issues in Scotland is simply not true. We only have to look at municipal bus services in England to see that, in some cities, they do not work at all and the local authorities are looking to disinvest from the services because of the challenges. It is not simply about one model; it is how we make use of that model that is important, which is why we will give consideration to that.

Colin Smyth

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

John Finnie

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

Michael Matheson

Mr Smyth was first in seeking to make an intervention so I will give way to him.

Colin Smyth

It is important to note that, during the debate, not a single member said that there was one panacea for the decline in bus patronage. However, why does the cabinet secretary think that banning councils from having the same model as Lothian is a way to improve bus services? Why does he stick to that point?

Michael Matheson

As I have said—and I will repeat it for the third time for the benefit of the member—I am open to giving consideration to that option. However, when members overplay a particular option, it suggests that they think there is a wand that they can wave that will resolve problems, which is just not true and does not reflect the complexity of the issues. No doubt the member will want to reflect on that.

I will draw my remarks to a close by saying something about parking. I heard the competing views in the chamber on the 20-minute exemption for unloading. It is important to recognise that people in the road haulage and delivery industries and business say that there must be some exemption to allow deliveries to take place, but I have also heard people say that there should be no exemptions whatever or that the exemption should be based not on time but on the amount of the pathway that can be made available.

There are also the concerns expressed by Sandra White who, as everyone in the chamber will want to recognise, has for many years now been pursuing, along with Ross Finnie and Joe FitzPatrick, the need to tackle pavement parking effectively. I will, of course, reflect on the views of and issues raised by the committee and members in the chamber. We are seeking to strike a balance that addresses the issue appropriately, but if there are ways in which we can address the concerns that have been expressed, we will certainly give them due consideration at stage 2.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

That concludes this afternoon’s debate.