And why Edinburgh’s transport plans are short-sighted
As I See It: Terry Murden
These are desperate times for the aviation industry, though maybe they have been a long time coming. So has a 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving in the UK.
No one should be surprised at this latest restriction on movement. I can’t have been the only person who wanted the UK to follow the example other countries were setting.
By early April 80 countries had imposed travel bans or quarantine procedures as a response to the COVID-19 emergency. These included South Korea and Italy as the virus spread from the east to the west. In other words, we had plenty of warning. Yet the UK continued to allow thousands of people to fly in even as the death rate soared.
I argued here on 10 April just a couple of weeks after the Prime Minister ordered the lockdown, that it was time for the UK to follow suit. That was four weeks ago. It wasn’t until a headline in the Sunday Telegraph last week that this began to gain traction in the London media and it now looks like it will form part of the PM’s next update.
Unfortunately, the same lax attitude to introducing the order will apply to how it is executed. Instead of locking people away in hotels or hospitals they will be able to self-isolate at an address of their choosing. Maybe this is so they can continue to work from home, or be reunited with close relatives. But it risks too many ignoring the order and continuing to mix with the community.
Arrivals at airports, ports and Eurostar railway stations will be affected by the order from the end of May. That’s another three weeks. Presumably this is to give the transport operators and travellers who have booked flights and rail trips sufficient time to re-arrange their plans, but this is a dangerously long time; two months after the lockdown was imposed.
The aviation industry has been most vocal in expressing concern about how it will affect them. Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said it would “not only have a devastating impact on the UK aviation industry, but also on the wider economy”.
Yes, it will. But we are where we are and the travel industry has to take a share of the blame for the spread of the disease. There has been little voluntary action, no testing, just a lot of complaining.
This could be a big reckoning for the sector. Sir Richard Branson has put his Virgin Atlantic airline up for sale amid reports that only 30 of the world’s 700 airlines may survive.
Well, there have also been demands for us all to fly a little less in the interests of climate change. The virus, aided and abetted by advances in communications technology, has hastened that objective.
Edinburgh’s transport shortcomings
While we’re on the subject of travel, Edinburgh City Council wants to introduce more road closures and wider pavements to encourage people to walk and cycle more often and at a safe distance from each other.
This is all very well, and will help the environment, but it is a bit short-sighted.
The policy fails to acknowledge that public concern about social distancing extends beyond the need for wider pavements and quieter streets.
An Ipsos MORI poll indicated that 61% of Britons would shun public transport, so that means more of us will be sticking to driving to work. If we can.
Where are the additional park and ride facilities? How are tradesmen and others who need to use their vehicles being helped with the return to work when they already face a mountain of other challenges?
The council has rarely been helpful to motorists which some suspect goes back to the rejection of the congestion charge plan. Since then the roads have deteriorated, parking charges have risen and attendants operate like hungry hawks.
A bathroom and kitchen tiler told me that he knew of tradesmen who do not like taking jobs in the city centre as they are tired of the restrictions and the parking fines they pick up. It’s time the council started implementing policies that helped instead of hindered those who keep the city ticking.
There are aspirations for a traffic-free city centre. That’s a fine ideal, but unlike some pedestrianised cities, Edinburgh does not have an inner ring road. The price of preserving the city is that motorists must travel through it to get anywhere. Restricting their ability to do this will add to congestion, not ease it.