Wednesday, 19 September 2012

THE THICKNESS OF IT

Christ on a bendy bus, that was an incompetent interview. I can imagine those words fizzing out of the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It but the interview I refer to wasn't a work of TV fiction - it was the real life ineptitude of the Transport Minister on Radio Scotland the other morning.

I'm Green Dad so you'd expect me to prefer investment in cycling to eight-lane motorways but the problem I had with the minister's twaddle was his description of 'striking the right balance'.

He was being interviewed in light of this report by sustainable transport charity Transform Scotland, highlighting the poor choices that have been made by the SNP Government. Transport emissions are rising, air pollution is getting worse, public transport fares are rising and budgets are being cut. While at the same time ministers blow billions on things like another Forth Road Bridge, an extension of the M74 motorway and dualling the A9. That's about as balanced as Homer Simpson on a tiny bike.

The minister tried to defend his daft spending on roads by claiming maintenance is required (insert your own rant about crappy road surfaces, overgrown verges and potholes near you - also consider the additional maintenance backlog he's creating by building more of the bloody things) and that buses and bicycles use roads. Last time I checked you couldn't cycle on the M74 and only an idiot with a deathwish would ride a push bike on the A9 now never mind when it becomes a dual carriageway. And bikes and buses are explicitly prohibited from using the new, additional, second, uneccessary Forth Road Bridge.

It's a well known fact that if you build new roads you get more traffic, so quite why the minister thought he could get away with saying his government will meet its carbon reduction targets by 2020 I have no idea. Transport accounts for a quarter of Scotland's CO2 emissions so if the SNP were remotely serious about hitting those targets they'd make reducing dependency on the car a top priority but instead they're doing the exact opposite.

Politics is about trust and it's clear to me the SNP simply can't be trusted on transport. They listen to lobby groups mainly comprised of business interests who constantly bend their ear for 1960s style road building. There isn't an equivalent voice for bus users, train passengers and those of us who like or want to walk or cycle. The brilliant campaign that is Pedal on Parliament has kept the issue of cycling on the political radar so I'd be surprised if there wasn't a wee bit of movement on that from the ministers soon. But let's face it, whatever extra loose change they push across the table it will be paltry compared to what they're spending on unsustainable, unhealthy and iniquitous forms of travel.

One way we could make these dinosaurs wake up is by getting the business community on board. Investing in cycle infrastructure for example is much more likely to deliver benefits for small, local contractors. The SNP Government like to bang on about "shovel ready" projects; a small business contact I spoke to recently described these as "write a cheque to Balfour Beatty" projects. I also know from experience you can get more work done if you're on public transport. That email inbox is pretty hard to tackle when you're behind the wheel of a Mondeo doing 70 but a doddle when you're on the train drinking coffee and enjoying the vista.

The SNP Government's own Economic Strategy is supposed to have solidarity and sustainability at its core. Clearly they believe their own rules are there to be bent.

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