Forth Road Bridge Closure 'Wake Up Call'

Campaigners have called for more investment in public transport in the wake of the closure of the Forth Road Bridge.

The Scottish Association for Public Transport and transport alliance Transform Scotland said the closure of the crossing for repairs should act as a "wake-up call'' for the Scottish Government.

They have appealed to Finance Secretary John Swinney to prioritise public transport over road building when he sets out his Budget for 2016-17 on Wednesday.

The groups praised action to boost public transport options for affected travellers, as Transport Minister Derek Mackay thanked people for their patience during the disruption.

Mr Mackay said the travel plans put in place since the closure were helping to minimise the impact on journey times between Fife and Edinburgh.

Paul Tetlaw, from Transform Scotland, said: "We welcome the speedy response to the current closure of the Forth Road Bridge and the steps taken to enhance bus and rail services.

"All involved deserve full credit and ScotRail and Stagecoach have clearly pulled out all the stops to source more trains and buses to cope with the extra passenger numbers.

"But this should be a wake-up call for government, it shouldn't take a crisis such as this to highlight the need for additional and prioritised public transport options on such key routes.

"It would now make sense to keep the additional trains sourced to boost capacity across the ScotRail network.''

John McCormick, of SAPT, added: "If car and lorry traffic continues to grow unabated, wear and tear on road surfaces and structures will create further problems.

"In this week's Scottish Budget statement, John Swinney should ensure that public transport investment is prioritised. This will reduce the ongoing cost of road maintenance, and cut accidents, congestion, and pollution.''

At its peak the Traffic Scotland website has recorded over three million hits a day since the closure, three times more than normal.

Over the course of last week journey times on the A907 diversion during peak morning hours fell by more than 30 minutes, Transport Scotland said.

The number of extra seats on ScotRail trains across the Forth Rail Bridge has risen to 10,000 a day, a 64% increase on usual passenger numbers.

Stagecoach has also provided an additional 33 vehicles per day, equal to an extra 11,000 seats, for services between Halbeath, Ferrytoll and Dunfermline to Edinburgh and Livingston.

Mr Mackay said: "I appreciate that many people have had to make significant changes to their travelling plans and, through their cooperation, we have succeeded in keeping the transport network in Fife operational and getting people to and from where they need to be.

"We have been constantly monitoring the situation and taking on board the advice and concerns of the local communities to ensure that we are doing the very best job that we can.

"Although certain services do remain busy, there does remain some capacity on certain routes, especially on the bus network. I encourage people to keep checking the travel plan published on the Traffic Scotland website for the latest advice.

"The team responsible for fixing the bridge are working 24/7 to get it reopened as soon as possible and are making good progress. It is, of course, vital that until it's repaired we continue to explore what further improvements can be made to the travel plan and take on board feedback.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said a £5 billion rail investment programme included over 20% more seats on Scotland's trains, with continued support for bus concessionary fares and funding of  #39.2 million to support active travel in 2015/16.

He said: "The Scottish Government and Transport Scotland are committed to encouraging healthier and greener modes of travel. That is why we are investing more than #1 billion to encourage people out of their cars and on to more sustainable and active modes.

"We have however made clear that, with even more cuts imposed on Scotland by the UK Government's Spending Review last month, Scotland faces an unprecedented pressure on public expenditure. Scottish ministers will publish their forward budget plans on Wednesday.''

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