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31 January 2008

S3M-1246 Passenger Transport [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 31 January 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Passenger Transport

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1246, in the name of Des McNulty, on accessible passenger transport and the national concessionary fares scheme.

... ... ...

10:18

Stewart Stevenson: I will follow Ian McKee's example and explain that my 55 journeys were paid for by the national concessionary travel scheme. In fact, I have looked at my travel diary more closely and, when I add all my public transport and walking journeys in excess of 10 minutes, I am pleased to say that 53.9 per cent of my journeys since May fall into that category. The minister does not just talk the talk, he walks the walk as well—and thoroughly enjoys doing so for the benefit of his health as well as the climate.

I will say a couple of words about the current bus service operators grant. The key point is that it has been a direct subsidy for fuel. I am particularly encouraged by the engagement and attitude of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK and the major bus operators.

Brian Adam (Aberdeen North) (SNP): Is the minister aware of a scheme that is currently being introduced by Lothian Buses, in conjunction with a Bellshill company called Solution Specialists Limited, to reduce the amount of diesel spillage from buses and allow active monitoring of the use of fuel, thereby increasing efficiency? Will the minister consider using such a scheme as part of the BSOG conditions?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes an interesting and key environmental point—he makes my point for me. We want to use the BSOG to reward environmentally friendly changes in behaviour. I am pleased that we have engagement on the subject.

We have thought about concessionary travel; I have announced changes for epileptics. We are also looking at the broader issue of administration and at the application form, to ensure that we are not denying anyone access to the concessionary travel scheme simply by administrative means.

Jamie Stone: Does the minister accept that, despite the best intentions of his Government and those of his predecessors, access to public transport for disabled people is patchy? That is a problem in my constituency, for reasons to do with the operators that we do not quite understand. Will he look at that, please?

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed. Although I welcome the new provision for wheelchairs that I have seen in many buses, there continues to be a problem in rural areas and I recognise that we need to look at that.

The bottom line is that we will start the review this year. We will look at the concessionary travel scheme in a wide range of ways. We are picking up administrative issues as far as we can—

Charlie Gordon: Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I no longer have time.

The bus route development fund was mentioned. It still exists and is the responsibility of local councils. That leads me to demand-responsive transport and some of the bizarre comments made by the Liberal speaker, Ms McInnes, who opened for her party today. When she was chair of NESTRANS, she wrote to the Government to plead that local authorities be allowed to retain responsibility for demand-responsive transport. Indeed, her council, when she was a member of it, introduced the very successful A2B scheme that operates in rural Aberdeenshire. That illustrates perfectly that local government is the best place to consider and make decisions on provision of the right local demand-responsive services. When I promoted my debate, I did not know that several community services qualified for the BSOG and to carry passengers who have the concessionary travel card. Such community services only have to be registered as publicly accessible services.

I do not disagree emotionally with what the Labour Party says. Broadly speaking, there is unanimity that public transport services are important and that we must support them. I have heard others make the point—more adequately than I might—that much of what the Labour Party criticises it had the opportunity to fix. Indeed, when Jackie Baillie said that she didnae ken, she only begged the question whether she is culpable or incompetent. Sometimes, it is better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and show that one is a fool. I am happy to have participated in this debate.

10:23

S3M-1246 Passenger Transport [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 31 January 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Passenger Transport

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1246, in the name of Des McNulty, on accessible passenger transport and the national concessionary fares scheme.

... ... ...

09:38

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I personally use sustainable mass transport—the bus—whenever I can. I have made 55 journeys in that way since May, and I am among the 87 per cent of users who have expressed satisfaction with the level of service.

Buses support economic growth and accessibility and reduce emissions, contributing to a wealthier, fairer and greener Scotland. We have around 1.1 million national entitlement card holders, which represents a major success, and we have maintained the agreement with the Confederation of Passenger Transport to conduct a major review of the scheme in its third year of operation—the review will start later this year. We will consider the eligibility criteria that were established by the Labour/Liberal Administration in the light of some current difficulties, to which members have already referred. I can announce today that, with the collaboration of Epilepsy Scotland, we are able to make a change in some of the administrative arrangements, which will shortly give epilepsy sufferers who cannot be issued with a driving licence faster and easier access to the concessionary card.

Jackie Baillie: I welcome the minister's administrative changes for those who suffer from epilepsy. Will he tell the chamber how long it will be before he commences a review on extending the other eligibility criteria?

Stewart Stevenson: I have already said that the review will start this year.

Jackie Baillie: So—three years on.

Stewart Stevenson: It has been three years since you introduced the scheme about which you are complaining.

The Presiding Officer: Minister, I did not introduce any scheme. Please do not address members directly.

Stewart Stevenson: Buses are part of an array of sustainable transport solutions that we will need in the future, and we will help local transport authorities and operators to ease congestion, free up bus lanes for their proper purpose and deliver the transport planning tools that are required. Those include bus priority measures, park-and-ride facilities, traffic management policies, traffic regulation conditions, punctuality improvement partnerships, quality partnerships and affordable parking. The Scottish Government, the bus industry and local authorities are working together through the action plan for buses.

I am pleased to advise the chamber that we are also working with the industry to create a more environmentally focused bus service operators grant, which is moving away from a mere fuel subsidy. We are also considering tying payments to actions that reduce emissions, improve access, increase passenger numbers and improve quality on our network. We are working to improve accessibility on the rail network, too, with a major shift to electric traction on the railways and the long-term aim of complete electrification by about 2030. We are driving forward our climate change objectives for 2050 and improving access to public transport.

The Scottish Government will support bus transport with around £260 million this year to help with the cost of fares, to encourage bus route development, to enable older and disabled people to gain access to bus services and to enable transport authorities to support essential services that are not commercially viable. We are providing local government with record levels of funding to enable each local authority to deliver bus provision to meet local needs and priorities, including DRT, which is something that Alison McInnes advocated when she was the chair of the north east of Scotland transport partnership. The focus is on local decisions to meet local needs.

Buses are an important part of the transport solutions that we need to deliver on our climate change agenda. They are accessible to passengers and will continue to be supported by the Scottish Government.

09:42

Stewart Stevenson
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