31 January 2008

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.

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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.


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