Coronavirus should prompt ‘radical rethink’ of transport policies, say MSPs

A “radical rethink” of public spending on transport projects is needed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Holyrood committee.

Motorists pass a coronavirus motorway gantry sign on the M8
Motorists pass a coronavirus motorway gantry sign on the M8

The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee said a review of priorities should take place in light of new travel patterns and changes in demand.

MSPs said these changes should be reflected in the Scottish Government’s next budget in January.

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“Blended work models” are likely to become the norm in the future, they said, while the need for greater internet connectivity in rural areas has been brought into focus.

Evidence provided to the committee suggests there has been a “significant behavioural change”.

Committee convener Sir Edward Mountain said: “The committee is of the view that a combination of the change in transport use brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the level of ambition in the commitment that Scotland should become a net-zero society by 2045 will require a radical rethink of future transport spending priorities.”

He said this should include “a further prioritisation of investment in active travel, modal shift in freight transport and in favour of the repair and maintenance of existing transport infrastructure compared to construction of new infrastructure”.

Mr Mountain added: “The committee would like to see this change in priorities already starting to be reflected in the Scottish budget for 2021-22.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The pace of change in economic and social activity during this pandemic is unprecedented and has had a significant impact on travel demand across all modes.

“Given the scale of uncertainty, we are already considering the implications for our transport network in some detail.

“The second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) will determine our future transport investment priorities over the next two decades.

“Phase 1 is due to be published in the coming months and will make recommendations for investment which lock in the positive travel behaviours we have seen during the course of the pandemic, including more home working, walking, wheeling and cycling.”

“To date, we have approved additional support of over £500 million across modes to enable our public transport system to continue running throughout the pandemic, keeping services running for those people that need to use them.”