MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, Finlay Carson's speech to Parliament during the debate on Promoting Active Travel.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in today’s debate on promotion of walking and cycling as active travel, particularly as someone who regularly cycles to work and for pleasure.
It is vital that we acknowledge the correlation between active travel and protection of the Scottish environment when we discuss these issues.
However, it is clear from the past seven years that the SNP Government has failed to engage adequately with the population to encourage a satisfactory level of active travel across Scotland.
With almost no progress to show from the active Scotland outcomes framework, the only track the Government is currently pedalling on is one that will lead to it missing its own its targets.
Active travel plays a crucial role in reduction of air pollution, which in many areas is exacerbated by people travelling by car for short commutes to work.
The number of sites where air pollution levels are regularly broken has risen from 33 in 2016 to 38 in 2017, according to Friends of the Earth Scotland. We also know that an estimated 2,500 deaths are attributed to air pollution.
By making realistic commitments that are properly funded and supported, the Government can reduce air pollution and increase healthy outcomes by encouraging and facilitating greater uptake of cycling in our towns and cities.
A commitment to further investment in children’s cycling proficiency training, alongside provision of further designated cycle routes across the country, will be additional catalysts for greater active travel and bring us closer to achieving the modal shift that we need in order even to come close to achieving the ambitious target of 10 per cent of all journeys being made by bike by 2020.
The Scottish Government has substantially increased the active transport budget, but it remains less than 4 per cent of the overall transport budget.
I welcome the Government’s cycling action plan, which was established to provide funding for communities, local authorities and other relevant bodies to work towards 10 per cent of all adults cycling to work by 2020, but that will be a difficult task.
In 2014, the figure was 2.6 per cent, and it dropped to 2.2 per cent in 2016, according to statistics from Transport Scotland.
Given the disappointing 0.2 per cent increase in everyday bike journeys in the past decade, without concerted efforts it will take 300 years for the Scottish Government to reach the 10 per cent mark.
It is a very admirable target, but can the Government really achieve it?
The Scottish Government needs to invest wisely. As Claudia Beamish mentioned, there should be no excuses made for old street layouts.
If Copenhagen and Amsterdam can integrate active travel so successfully, so should we.
We need a modal shift.
We need to change attitudes and remove barriers to people using their bikes or their feet to get to work.
Even simple things, such as an accelerated roll-out of more bike stands, would remove the barrier that is created by people having to carry their bikes up flights of stairs.
From experience, I know that electric mountain bikes are way too heavy to carry up any stairs.
We should look at successful active transport schemes across the world—and, indeed, closer to home.
The UK government is providing £1 billion of funding to local bodies in England through its cycling and walking investment strategy.
As a result, it has seen an increase in cycling rates in places where it has increased dedicated funding.
The Scottish Government should look at the successes south of the border, learn lessons and improve on the progress that has been made by our neighbours.
Conservative members understand the benefits of encouraging active travel in Scotland.
Through the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s “Global Challenge, Local Leadership: Environment and Climate Change Position Paper 2017”, we are committed to working with local authorities and third-party partners to improve our cycle-path network.
Furthermore, we are committed to supporting safe travel routes to schools, in order to encourage active travel from a young age.
Although it currently appears that the Scottish Government is pedalling for an unrealistic target, which is akin to a riding a bike without a chain, a properly targeted and funded budget could—I hope it will—provide for greater success in promoting active travel and the benefits that come with such action.
I and my Conservative colleagues will support that aim.