New Transport Bill benign and lacking imagination, Tory MSP claims

Legislation to improve the transport system in Scotland fails to “push the limits of policy imagination”, according to a Tory MSP.

The general principles of the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill, which brings forward a number of proposals to make improvements across several different areas, were debated at Holyrood on Thursday.

The Bill includes measures to improve bus pass usage, air quality within cities and to increase the safety and efficiency of roadworks, as well as addressing issues around parking.

Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene claimed the proposals do not go far enough.

Mr Greene said: “This Bill overall tinkers with existing legislation and proposes fairly benign new powers as it’s currently drafted.

“It’s all very necessary perhaps but it doesn’t exactly push the limits of policy imagination.

“There’s little on the long-term plans to improve community travel and transport, particularly amongst our elderly population and rural communities.

“There’s little that develops sustainable non-concessionary travel frameworks or anything that proposes to deliver dramatic improvements to our railways, our ferries or a radical overhaul of the state of Scotland’s roads.”

Scottish cabinet reshuffle
Michael Matheson says the legislation should be viewed in a wider context (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the Bill would help to make a number of improvements to Scotland’s transport system and should be viewed as part of a wider strategy.

“This Bill is an ambitious and broad piece of legislation covering a wide range of issues,” he said.

“It aims to help develop a cleaner, smarter and more accessible system for the travelling public across Scotland.

“The Bill will empower local transport authorities and others to help improve journeys for the travelling public.”

He added: “Members who have monitored the progress of this Bill will know it’s wide-ranging and aspirational but also quite technical and complex in areas.

“This legislation is part of a broader transport jigsaw and must be viewed in a wider context.

“Whilst matters such as low emission zones (LEZs), 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 this Bill, there is a host of other non-legislative work going on across my portfolio to drive improvement.”

Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth hit out at the “timidness” of the proposals.

While he welcomed plans to introduce low-emission zones across Scotland, and to outlaw pavement parking and double parking, the Labour MSP said: “On too many counts the Bill lacks ambition.”

The lack of clear definitions for low emission zones could “actually end up slowing down the change needed to tackle air pollution,” he argued.

He said there were “loopholes” in the ban on pavement parking, with exemptions for deliveries and loading potentially undermining the proposals.

Mr Smyth went on to claim the legislation would “do nothing” to tackle the fall in bus passenger numbers across Scotland.

He added: “It will do nothing to drive up standards in the sector, strengthen passenger rights or improve workers’ terms and conditions.

“We need radical changes to the way buses are run in Scotland to protect the lifeline services currently being axed and to stop the big companies simply cherry-picking the most profitable routes.”

Meanwhile, he said Labour had “deep concerns” about plans to use the Bill to bring in a workplace parking levy – with the measure being included in the legislation as part of the budget deal between the Scottish Government and the Greens.

Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles was also critical, saying: “The Scottish Government will whip its MSPs to support an amendment to the Bill, which its MSPs haven’t even seen. I understand not even the Green MSPs have seen it.”

He added: “It’s no way to pass legislation, a responsible Government wouldn’t behave in this way, and I never thought our strong committee system, established in 1999 would ever end up being misused like this.”

Green MSP John Finnie accused others of “rank hypocrisy” on the workplace parking levy, pointing out that in the run-up to the 2017 council elections Labour had included such a plan in its manifestos for both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Overall, he said: “This is a piecemeal Bill, it’s conservative in outlook.”

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