Date lodged: 24 August 2017
To ask the Scottish Government how it will improve infrastructure in the Highlands, where it is reported that a surge in tourism is causing increased pressure on public transport and Wi-Fi and mobile phone networks.
Answered by: Fiona Hyslop 14 September 2017
Encouraging our visitors to see the best of what the Highlands has to offer by public transport is important in ensuring the long term growth in tourism is sustainable.
With regard to the rail network, £54m is being invested in 26 fully refurbished High-Speed-Trains (HSTs) which will be gradually introduced from summer 2018 onwards to run between Scotland’s seven main cities, including Inverness, delivering 40% more seats than operate on those routes today. HSTs are faster, popular with passengers, will benefit from power car upgrades and will be upgraded to provide the latest standard of comfort, accessibility and catering provision.
Most Highland services are operated by class 156 and class 158 diesel trains and ScotRail has already commenced a significant refurbishment programme across these fleets worth around £30m. Work on the Class 156s fleet of 38 trains started last August with the full refurbishment works due to be completed by spring 2019.
The majority of bus services in Scotland are provided on a commercial basis. It is a matter for individual operators to consider timetabling, fares and which routes they operate. Local authorities have a duty to identify where there is a social need for particular services and to subsidise these at their discretion. Bus operators and local authorities working together can assess the impact of increased tourism on the bus network and identify what changes to services are necessary.
In the Highlands and Islands, the Scottish Government’s Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme is on track to extend fibre broadband access to around 86% of homes and businesses by the end of 2018. Without DSSB only 21% of premises would have been served and no commercial providers planned to deploy fibre on any of the region’s islands. We are also committed to providing superfast broadband access to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021.
All four mobile operators are deploying 4G infrastructure across Scotland, with the intention of providing 95% of premises with indoor 4G service. Our Mobile Action Plan, developed in collaboration with the mobile industry, sets out an agreed series of actions designed to increase mobile coverage further. This includes a 4G Mobile Infill Programme and we expect the first phase of this initiative to begin procurement by the end of 2017.