Dey seeks to stabilise transport in uncertain times


The Scottish Government will struggle to return public transport service levels in the face of uncertain demand following the pandemic, transport minister Graeme Dey has said.

Appearing as keynote speaker at Road Expo in Glasgow last week, Mr Dey was asked by Transport Network about the future business model for public transport in the country.

Graeme Dey

He said: ‘One of the challenges for us is trying to model future public transport usage. You can model whatever you like, but it will probably be off.

'And that’s very difficult, for example we’re copping a bit of flak just now because we have started to restore some of the train services in Scotland, but not all the ones we had before. And that’s not popular but we can’t afford to run empty trains, loss making trains. And what we’re trying to do is to look at where the demand is currently and where we think the demand will be.’

Mr Dey added that rail services in Scotland are seeing a ‘very significant’ return to leisure usage but not a significant return to business use.

He said: ‘So for us as public transport providers it's a challenge, but businesses across the board, they’re all going to have to think through how they do this differently in future. It presents opportunities, but it also presents challenges.’

Asked whether the sector had to wait for new travel patterns to emerge, he replied: ‘There is a need to let it settle, but we all face financial challenges, currently, with budgets. We’re having to take steps now that reflect those challenges.

'What we are trying to do is let it stabilise with a view to building back, but that’s never a popular thing – if your train service has been changed that you’ve depended on and you are commuting to work. So it’s going to be a difficult next period.’

Speaking before the Scottish Government reintroduced guidance to work from home where possible, Mr Dey was asked by a Road Expo visitor whether it has plans to increase agile working to take the pressure off the road network.

He said: ‘Every time we as a government, because of the pandemic, say “please focus on working from home”, I know that has a detrimental effect on the public transport usage, and has a financial implication for our budget.

‘I think it’s inevitable as a consequence of the pandemic that we will see a more hybrid approach to working. Now, that’s not practical if your job is building roads, but there are lots of other jobs, even within the road sector where that could be the case.

‘But I think, in doing that, that will reduce road usage – there’s no doubt about that. We always have to think about the people as well and it worries me a little bit that, as a consequence of what we’ve learned from the pandemic, given to a one-size-fits-all approach.’

He added: ‘There are people who actually enjoy working from home. They actually love it. There are others who absolutely detest it and there are others who would like to strike a balance. And in the context of that, I think going forward we’re going to need to strike that balance.’

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