Does Scotland Have a Rural Transport Problem?
GRAY D, The Robert Gordon University, UK
Rural policy in general and rural transport in particular is commanding considerable attention in the UK, both politically and in the media. Annual increases in fuel duty, which have raised prices at rural filling stations to the highest in Europe, have e
Rural policy in general and rural transport in particular is commanding considerable attention in the UK, both politically and in the media. Annual increases in fuel duty, which have raised prices at rural filling stations to the highest in Europe, have elicited a storm of protest. Although the fuel duty escalator has been abolished, it is an ongoing source of rural disquiet that fuel prices are highest in areas where cars are regarded as a necessity.
Although the perceived hardship facing low-income households in remote communities is often highlighted, it is rarely acknowledged that reliance on the car among lower income groups has been facilitated by motoring costs which have fallen in relation to disposable incomes over many years, bringing car ownership within the reach of most pockets. While it is also accepted that rural life is being undermined by the loss of basic services such as shops, primary schools, banks, post offices and filling stations, few rural dwellers acknowledge the part their own changing consumer habits have played a part in this process. ,
The prevailing view of rural transport policy is that high fuel prices are harmful to rural communities, and wherever possible resources should be made available to provide alternatives to the car for those without access to a vehicle. However, one or two commentators have questioned whether a transport policy that places emphasis on outputs such as the price of fuel, the number of car owning households and rural bus passenger numbers is likely to undermine rural communities rather than sustain them.
For many rural commuters there is no practical choice but to use the car for the journey to work. However, a major component of rural car dependence is the increasing number of basic household maintenance trips that have to undertaken by car. In some rural areas, providing people with more local consumer choice might prove a better long-term option than merely subsidising their mobility. While those who wish to journey longer distances by car are free to do so, a more effective policy outcome might involve affording those with-less means, ability or inclination to travel with access to a competitive array of goods and services which are imaginatively and flexibly provided. Such an approach would also generate environmental as well social dividends.
This paper.sets but to play Devil's Advocate by challenging, what has become an accepted wisdom of rural transport In Scotland. It-alms to question the assumptions held by the media, transport pressure groups and other rural commentators. By highlighting the complexity of the issues and the existence of alternative analyses, the intention is to generate an informed debate that aids policy makers in formulating the most effective policies for sustaining rural communities in the long term.
The bulk of the evidence in this paper is drawn from Car Dependence in Rural Scotland (1998), a study which explored car use in five contrasting rural areas of Scotland.
Association for European Transport