Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart, who sits on Holyrood’s Covid committee, has today called for Scotland’s travel operators to appear before the committee as part of a move to ensure “comprehensive safety plans” are in place for travel over the festive period. The calls come after Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell was unable to guarantee plans were in place to prevent travel bottlenecks over the 5-day Christmas window.
Liberal Democrats believe the Committee should be given the opportunity to scrutinise plans for:
- Social distancing on trains, buses, ferries and at airports
- Sufficient additional train carriages being allocated to festive services
- Additional non-peak services being made available to vulnerable people attempting to travel in quieter periods
At a session of Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee today, Ms Wishart sought assurances that the transport system would not be overwhelmed by bottlenecks over the festive period. Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell was unable to guarantee there would be enough capacity.
Ms Wishart also asked the Cabinet Secretary what consideration had been given for extra travel days for people to get to and from the islands. Mr Russell reiterated that travel is between 23 and 27 December for the whole country, before then conceding that guidance published earlier today would now be updated to clarify that people beginning their travel on 27 December by overnight ferry can complete their journey within the rules.
Beatrice Wishart said:
“Governments across the UK have lent their support to plans for small Christmas family gatherings. Now people need to have confidence travel operators are adapting to this new policy to make their services safe.
“We have to be realistic about people’s desire to get home over the festive period. The trains are going to be used and operators need to go the extra mile now to ensure that comprehensive safety plans are in place.
"Travel bottlenecks could mean large groups of people in confined spaces, that is exactly what should be avoided.
“Social distancing is inevitably going to mean we need more trains on the tracks and more buses on the roads. Holyrood’s Covid Committee should be given the opportunity to scrutinise those plans.
"The Scottish Government and rail operators will need to show that the 5-day Christmas window has been fully factored into the announcement today that the timetable will be reduced by 20% just 10 days before this period."
“Supermarkets and other lifeline services have found innovative ways of extending operations in quieter hours, making special arrangements for vulnerable people so that they can have an extra layer of protection and confidence. I hope to see Scotland’s travel operators applying the same creativity."