The Transport (Scotland) Bill (the Bill) passed Stage 1 of the three stage parliamentary process on 4th April 2019.

In summary, the Bill proposes to:

  • create low emission zones (LEZs),
  • make provision for flexibility in bus services,
  • impose greater controls on parking,
  • further regulate road works, and
  • make further provision for smart ticketing, regional transport partnerships and the governance / regeneration of Scottish canals.

The Bill aims to develop a cleaner, smarter, more sustainable and more accessible transport system for everyone in Scotland. It is intended to empower local authorities whilst also creating consistent standards.

Reducing Pollution

One of the major targets of the Bill is a reduction in pollution levels through the creation and enforcement of LEZs. LEZs are to be designated areas within city centres that will only permit access to the cleanest vehicles, their introduction being a key commitment made under the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2017/18.

It will be for local authorities to decide where LEZs should be put in place, subject to local consultation and Ministerial approval. Drivers who breach the emission standards will incur penalty charges.

In some European countries, such as Sweden, this model has transformed towns and cities into cleaner, healthier places to live, work and visit. The Scottish Government is hoping for a similar effect and is looking for the transition to take place across all four of Scotland's biggest cities by 2022.

Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, has acknowledged that reducing pollution levels will require a combination of measures saying "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".

Reversing falling bus use

Matheson also highlighted that the Bill would look to address Scotland's existing bus network and replace it with an ambitious new model for bus provision. The aim is to achieve this through granting additional power and flexibility to local authorities, to be used for promoting greater use of Scotland's bus services particularly in areas where there is an unmet public transport need.

Local transport authorities are given wide discretion to meet local needs whether through partnership working or local services franchises. It has been documented that the decline in the use of bus services is higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK but it remains to be seen whether the proposals in the Bill will be enough to resolve this.

Other provisions

The Bill also addresses the following matters:

  • extension of smart ticketing arrangements and the creation of a National Smart Ticketing Advisory Board;
  • prohibition of double parking and parking on pavements – to be enforced by local authorities;
  • improving the quality of road works by adjusting the function of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner, requiring greater provision of information and encouraging more efficient execution and completion of works;
  • adjusting the funding of regional transport partnerships; and
  • altering the board member requirements for Scottish Canals.

The Bill thus attempts to look at the bigger picture of transport in Scotland; both tackling pollution and reforming a number of other important areas.

Mixed reception

The Bill was largely welcomed across all political parties – but, perhaps inevitably, some questioned whether the proposals went far enough. Green MSP John Finnie felt that the Bill was “piecemeal” in the way it proposed to implement change, a view which was echoed by Conservative MSP Jamie Greene who said of the Bill “it doesn’t exactly push the limits of policy imagination”. Labour’s Colin Smyth went as far as to call it “timid”.

The Law Society of Scotland has called for greater clarity around how LEZs will be implemented and enforced, and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee (the Committee) has questioned how the cost of implementation will be split between local and central government. The Committee also noted that LEZs could pose a financial threat to motorists and businesses (due to the costs associated with having to upgrade or replace vehicles that do not meet the current emissions standards) and will impact adversely on voluntary organisations and community transport providers.

The Committee further highlighted that improvements to public transport provision will be needed if LEZs are to be a success, warning that the measures on bus service provision may not be sufficient to address the underlying causes of falling bus use and noting that local authorities may not have the funds to actually take advantage of the bus service options in the Bill.

The late introduction of an agreed Scottish Green Party amendment at Stage 2 seeking a workplace parking levy has also given rise to some criticism. It remains to be seen whether stakeholders will have the opportunity to properly scrutinise the terms of any such amendment, for which details remain relatively unclear.