Scottish Policy Innovation Forum
Scotland’s transport priorities
Friday, 30 November, 2007
University of Glasgow
Chaired by Professor Jim Gallagher
Minutes of proceedings
Dr Iain Docherty of Glasgow University opened the meeting with a presentation on the relationship
between transport policy and economic development. Docherty started off by pointing out that his
presentation, and indeed those of his fellow speakers, would be deliberately provocative in order to
stimulate disagreement and therefore debate.
Docherty said that, in general, public policy debate was too timid, and that debate on transport
policy was a very good example of this. Since 1999, a lot of public money had been spent on
transport in Scotland, but not always on worthwhile projects. Recent budgetary constraints were not
necessarily a bad thing: they would maybe help to ensure that public money would be better spent.
If the Scottish administration was serious about economic development being its main priority, it
must pay attention to transport policy, the most important short-to-medium-term economic lever.
Furthermore, the focus should be on economic outputs, not specific projects. That is, government
should prioritise the projects that would be most likely to yield economic gain rather than investing
in pet projects; this had not been the case with regard to transport and many other policy areas. The
key question when assessing future transport policy should be: “what are the transport outcomes
(not projects) that would achieve these desired strategic economic policy objectives?”
Docherty went on to say that the UK was unique in behaving as if transport infrastructure did not
matter. This, he suggested, was in contrast to the prevalent attitudes in many European countries:
for the previous 40 years, the UK had invested 40% less than its competitors. Furthermore, the
National Transport Strategy did not take proper account of the economic need for transport
Docherty compared the different ways in which the Scottish and UK administrations made transport
policy decisions. The UK government’s priority was to increase the capacity of two main cities or city
regions (London and Manchester). If this strategy was successful, and Scotland did not follow suit, it
would result in an insurmountable gap in economic growth.
Docherty argued that the balance between capital and revenue spending in Scotland was wrong. The
aim of capital spending should be to reduce future revenue exposure. Continuing to invest in add-on
schemes and politically-motivated projects would jeopardise future transport investment and,
therefore, future economic prosperity.
Previous transport strategy, Docherty said, had been a combination of politics, spatial and
organisational boundaries and luck. Future transport policies, however, should not follow this
“bottom up” model, but should be governed by a framework for option identification and sifting
based on genuinely strategic economic objectives. STAG (Scottish Transport Appraisals Guidance)
was sound in principle, but it did not sift effectively enough; even bad transport investments could
be justified by STAG. Therefore STAG should be replaced by new guidance that would genuinely sift
options for prioritisation, would be more clearly focused on delivering economic benefit, would
integrate with the new National Planning Framework and take the concept of the carbon balance
Docherty argued that making short-term savings on transport expenditure would cause longer-term
damage to the economy. Future transport decisions should be evaluated on their ability to meet
economic objectives, and should not be based on political,”pork barrel”, considerations.
The second presentation was given by Dr Jon Shaw of Plymouth University, and examined the
relationship between transport policy and social inclusion. Shaw agreed with Docherty that
transport policy ought to become more focused on outcomes. But he argued that although
economic development was certainly important, so too was social inclusion; economic development
was not the only desirable outcome of transport policy. He argued that there was a danger that a
focus on capital investment for economic development would be at the expense of spending on
revenue support which promoted inclusion; though revenue support was not always being spent
wisely at present.
Shaw argued that transport was hugely important in promoting social inclusion: better transport
increased mobility and therefore accessibility, mostly down to the private car. If a person was young,
came from a small household, possessed a driving license, had a steady job, lived in an urban setting
and was willing to travel a long distance, he or she would have more opportunities available than
someone in different circumstances.
Shaw explained the relationship between transport and social inclusion in terms of a “mobility gap”,
and “poverty of access”, both of which could be addressed by transport policy. Typically socially
excluded groups – like the poor, the young, the old, the disabled and women – were excluded from
or disadvantaged with regard to services and opportunities. Those living in poverty might sometimes
struggle to afford public transport fares (fares in the UK were considerably higher than the EU
average), and that women were sometimes unwilling to use public transport because of personal
Shaw presented evidence that those who were constrained in terms of transport and mobility were
likely to pay more for their groceries. Local shops were more expensive for many common groceries,
and in particular staples such as bread, cereal and vegetables. Again, those who were able to travel
had better opportunities. People with fewer transport options were likely to pay more to get to the
shops and would pay more when they got there.
Shaw went on to speak about the increasing dispersal of social groups and an increasing “spatial
fragmentation” of people’s lives: modern social networks were far more geographically dispersed
than traditional ones. This kind of social network was undermining the traditional model of the
close-knit community, because under the new model people were less likely to know or be friends
with their neighbours. Therefore, the people who relied on the traditional model were at a
disadvantage, and in rural communities, this could increase social exclusion. Very often, people in
rural communities would car share in order to improve access, but this would not be easy in
communities that were not close-knit. The new model was of benefit to people with access to a
private car, but was detrimental to people with no car.
Shaw suggested that few people would argue against revenue spending to support people who were
socially excluded. (This was true for people who lived in urban areas with either poor transport links
or significant concerns for personal safety on public transport as well as for those who lived in rural
areas.) The traditional approach to addressing this problem was to spend more money on transport
schemes – concessionary fares, bus service operator grants and such like. But Shaw questioned
whether these strategies provided people with the best opportunities to overcome transport
inequalities given that, despite significant recent spending in such initiatives, people who lived in
non-car-owning rural households still made more journeys by car than by public transport.
Therefore, the importance of lift-giving, and indeed the community networks that underpin it, was
not to be overlooked.
Shaw concluded with some thoughts on what direction future policy should take. Revenue spending
should remain high for those who were disadvantaged in terms of transport. However, the pattern
of this spending did not have to follow the status quo: perhaps existing schemes like concessionary
fares and rural bus subsidies should be replaced with more cross-sector working, accessibility
planning and use of smart cards, although these alternatives might bring their own problems.
Whatever specific schemes and initiatives were to be put in place, the key point was that transport’s
role needed to be understood in terms of the way in which it could help to deliver clearly-defined
social outcomes, not investment in transport systems simply for the sake of investing in transport
systems. This was especially important given the recent funding squeeze.
The third presentation of the afternoon was given by Professor David Gray, of Robert Gordon
University, who explored the relationship between transport and the environment. Gray began by
making a distinction between the “wide debate” and the “narrow debate” concerning carbon
emissions from transport, both of which were current. The wide debate consisted of UK
policymaking in light of the Stern Review, and the part that transport has to play in that process; the
narrow debate only concerned reducing carbon emissions from transport in Scotland.
Gray pointed out that it was very difficult to access specific data on carbon emissions arising from
transport because of a disparity between the various methods of capturing the data. Depending on
which data one used, transport was responsible for 23 to 32 per cent of the UK’s overall carbon
emissions. (The higher figure included international aviation and shipping; the lower did not.) Road
transport was responsible for the vast majority (more than 90 per cent) of the overall transport
emissions. Furthermore, road transport emissions had been rising steadily, with much of the carbon
savings from current policies cancelling out an increase in road transport. However, road transport
emissions were expected to rise sharply from 2020 onwards.
The Stern Review recommended that any package of measures aimed at reducing climate change
should be cost effective. However, perhaps not all sectors would be able to contribute to the same
degree. A significant reduction in transport emissions would be very expensive financially, and very
difficult politically. Current transport policy was keeping emissions in check, at least for the time
being, and more cost effective reductions could be achieved in other sectors, for example business,
home energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. However, Gray argued, more savings
could and should be made from the transport sector. Much of the existing measures relied on
relatively expensive technology, and more cost-effective savings could be made by offering smarter
choices and thereby promoting behavioural change.
Gray went on to point out that the majority of powers relating to transport and emissions belonged
to the UK or EU administrations, leaving little room for the Scottish administration to make any
reductions over and above the UK government’s commitments. However, he suggested that the
2007 administration had given early indications that it was in favour of reducing the environmental
cost of transport, by increasing the proportion of journeys to work made by public or active
transport. However, Gray suggested, abolishing bridge tolls and developing the A9 were not wholly
consistent with the aim of reducing transport emissions.
The key question, Gray believed, was how the Scottish Government would deliver on its
environmental pledges without undermining economic growth. There was a strong link between
economic growth, traffic growth and rising emissions from transport. Road traffic in Scotland had
grown by 1.6 per cent per annum over the previous ten years, while the economy had grown by
around 1.8 per cent per annum. The narrow debate, therefore, was concerned with whether
economic growth could be decoupled from the related rise in traffic levels and emissions. Scotland’s
National Transport Strategy (NTS), published in December 2006 by the previous Scottish
administration, included reducing emissions from transport as one of its three strategic outcomes.
This policy was still live, at least for the time being. The NTS also included a commitment to conduct
a Scotland-specific appraisal of the potential carbon savings of stricter adherence to national speed
limits on trunk roads and motorways. It had been argued that adhering to the 70mph speed limit
would bring about a reduction in emissions by the road transport sector of between 2.9 per cent and
5.6 per cent by 2010. However, it was not clear whether the current administration would continue
with either of these policies.
Gray said that it was important that the NTS promoted smart measures, and that this
recommendation had been adopted by the 2007 Scottish Government, which had increased its
annual investment in sustainable and active travel from £6.6 million to £11 million. This was in line
with the Commission for Integrated Transport’s argument that cost-effective carbon savings could
be obtained from Smarter Choices measures that promote behavioural change. However, Gray
suggested that if the Scottish Government was committed to promoting sustainable transport and
smart choices, it should invest more that £11 million pounds per annum and that additional funding
could be achieved by reallocating existing investment in public transport.
Gray highlighted three options for future Scottish policy: adopting a carbon balance sheet approach;
aiming for carbon neutrality across all transport activity and investing in infrastructure, including
roads, as long as the costs of increased traffic and emissions were offset by savings elsewhere.
Gray concluded by offering an analogy for the conflicting constraints of environment, economic
development and social inclusion on transport policy. A customer wanted to buy a mountain bike
and asked the owner of the mountain bike shop for one which was strong, light and affordable. The
owner answered that the customer could have a bike with any two of these attributes, but not all
The discussion session began with an observation by the chair that the speakers’ presentations had
demonstrated that transport policy was not an end in itself, but was always a means to another end
such as economic development, social inclusion, or environmental improvement.
It was suggested that both capital spending and revenue spending on transport should be reviewed,
and perhaps capital projects should be prioritised. There was growing evidence to suggest a link
between improved access to transport and better quality of life, via increased opportunity. Money
should be prioritised in favour of capital spending, because sound infrastructure would be necessary
for good services.
Perhaps Scotland should be more adventurous and invest far more in transport infrastructure,
especially in order to facilitate economic development. Madrid and Vienna had spent enormous
sums of money on their transport systems and were reaping the economic benefits of their
investment. In Scotland, huge amounts of public money were being spent on transport projects that
supported a poor land use policy. Since deindustrialisation, the location of some towns and villages
no longer made sense. This should be taken into account when deciding whether to allow new
housing developments, and indeed whether to invest in new transport infrastructure and services.
It was suggested that there was little point in upgrading roads if a continuing increase in traffic
would lead to the same problem happening again in future. It would be important to restrict road
traffic, perhaps by introducing road tolls. But road tolls would only be appropriate if viable
alternatives to road travel, such as improved public transport and smart choices, were implemented
first. It would also be important to ensure that the benefits of any investment in roads would be
locked in. That is, that any benefits – economic, environmental or social – that come about as a
result of the development would be sustained after the development was completed. The benefits
of the Newbury bypass had not been locked in, and there was more traffic in Newbury than before
the bypass was built.
Members expressed frustration that government seemed to be reluctant to spend significant
amounts of money on projects that were demonstrably good value. It was also suggested that,
rather than redeveloping roads, closing roads would help to combat certain traffic problems; this
strategy had been used in London, and had encouraged people to use public transport.
It was suggested that some of the problems with transport policy were due to the amount of money
that flowed to the private sector from transport investment from changes in land value. Transport
infrastructure investment very often involved buying land from private individuals, and transport
policy involved a huge lobbying culture. Furthermore, many of the people involved in delivering
transport infrastructure were not explicitly incentivised to facilitate economic development, but
rather to make profits. In fact, some innovative solutions to transport problems were ignored
because they were not profitable. Short-termism and vote-winning policies were common in
transport policy and were detrimental to the objectives covered by all three speakers. Furthermore,
it was suggested that transport decision-making was stunted due to a fear of adverse press
coverage: policymakers were afraid of pursuing innovative or visionary policies. This was the source
of frustration throughout the transport sector, and similar situations were apparent in other policy
areas, for example energy and climate change.
Transport appraisals were criticised for paying almost exclusive attention to work-related travel. In
future they should look at wider travel behaviour in order to gain a better understanding of actual
transport needs. There was no point in spending money on policies that were based on a poor
understanding of travel behaviour.
The strategy of prioritising investment in terms of Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) was called into question.
Projects could offer very good returns in terms of, for example, increasing accessibility, but could
nonetheless offer poor rewards in terms of BCR; increased accessibility could not be expressed in
terms of monetary value, and as such would not be included in a BCR calculation.
It was pointed out that the transport sector had been very quiet in the recent debate regarding post
office closures and in the debates regarding supermarkets and out-of-town shopping developments.
These arguments, although they did not directly impact upon transport policy, had important
ramifications for the reorganisation of transport services and infrastructure.
It was also suggested that problems were created by the existence of so many local authority areas,
which meant that there were a lot of competing local demands, many of which had little or no
national significance, and therefore sufficient attention was not being paid to projects which did in
fact offer national benefits. As a result, local council administration of transport policy (as in
England) could lead to operational difficulties in service delivery. The Scottish model of central
administration of transport policy was better, but it was still imperfect. In particular, it did very little
to address the problems relating to social exclusion.
It was suggested that there was a need for a meaningful suite of indicators by which competing
transport policies could be compared.
The quality of a journey was also important, and this was often overlooked when developing policy.
People would be more likely to use public transport if they could use the journey time more
effectively, for example by having access to Wi-Fi during train journeys. Improvements of this nature
would make public transport better – and arguably more popular – without changing the
infrastructure at all.
Napier University had recently carried out some research into travel behaviour. This research
suggested that at least half of Scotland’s motorists would like to use their cars less frequently. It also
suggested that most people would prefer to drive within the current speed limits, even on
It was suggested that business-to-business trips should be replaced when possible by telephone calls
or teleconferencing, thus reducing the travel associated with business. However, although this
seemed at first glance to be true, it was argued that advances in telecommunications did not always
reduce business travel. For example, if someone who lived worked in a city was able to work for part
of the week from home, very often they would decide to move house to somewhere outside the
city. This meant that when they did have to travel to work, they were travelling further, resulting in
little or no net reduction in business travel. In fact, although teleconferencing and such like could
increase productivity, they can actually cause an overall increase in movement.
It was suggested that the privatisation of transport had been a bad thing: it seemed that, since
privatisation, public transport had become less popular and more expensive.
It was argued that a wider cultural shift could be a catalyst for better transport provision. The
aspiration to own a large house and multiple cars led to a number of problems for the transport
system: people chose to live further away from city centres, making driving the easiest means of
transport and putting pressure on government to provide regular public transport to outlying areas.
If people were to focus less on material possessions and more on quality and ease of life, perhaps
this situation would reduce over time.
Transport policymaking was criticised for not being grounded in solid evidence. The policy of
concessionary fares was used as an example: there was an ongoing argument about whether this
policy was good or bad, but neither side had recourse to solid evidence to support its claim; in fact,
no evidence concerning the merit of the scheme had been gathered prior to its implementation.
There was concern about the appropriateness of some recent transport and land use investments. It
was suggested that poor decisions are made due to perverse incentives – usually financial incentives
– being imposed on planning authorities. This was particularly true in the case of out-of-town
The meeting concluded by reflecting on the challenges that political decision making set, both in
general and for transport in particular.