The need for a coherent transport strategy
18 March 2013
Transport is at the heart of the economic recovery and growth agenda. Getting goods to market efficiently, getting to the office reliably, ensuring that the supply chain works like clockwork all depend on transport networks and services that are fit for purpose. But that doesn’t just happen by chance or by magic, it has to be planned.
Efficient transport also underpins our way of life. Whether it’s getting the kids to school on time, fitting in the shopping on the way home from work or that relaxing weekend break, we’d all be lost without good transport facilities.
Transport also has its downside. Congestion is the bane of our lives, noise, pollution and accidents are a blight on society, and the environmental side-effects need careful mitigation.
Today’s lives are a complicated jigsaw of activity, and an effective and deliverable transport strategy is an essential building block if we, as professionals, are to serve society’s needs.
Transport strategies are usually developed to form part of, or complement, a structured land use planning framework, generally commissioned by one or other tier of government (or an agency on their behalf). Strategies inform or support wider policy goals (economic development, education and health) and provide justification for capital investment programmes. Without a strategy, the efforts and activities of public and private players, and the community/voluntary sector are uncoordinated, causing overlap, inefficiency and the risk of omitting key activities. The allocation of risk can be haphazard and opportunities for risk sharing are likely to be missed. In overcoming these weaknesses, a transport strategy seeks to deliver economic, societal and environmental benefits while minimising costs and delivery times, and to secure outcomes that the market on its own would fail to deliver.
So what type of outcomes should a transport strategy seek to deliver? Transport is a derived demand and a successful transport strategy therefore needs to look beyond transport to economic development, societal benefits (including promoting social inclusion) and environmental improvement. Other outcomes such as health and quality of life are equally important, although links between transport inputs and desired outcomes may sometimes be less direct.
How can a transport strategy most effectively deliver these outcomes? Influencing people’s behaviour is the fundamental driver of change and, for transport, this means the behaviour of transport users, infrastructure/service providers, regulators, and legislators.
User behaviour, and the attendant transport choices, is as complicated as it is deep rooted. The car is not only a means of transport; it is also seen by many as a status symbol.
Modern life is also complicated with families juggling commuting, travel to education, shopping and leisure trips – one trip often serving two or more purposes.
Travel choices also depend critically on the availability of different modes of transport and how well they compete with each other (and travel substitution options such as teleworking) in the local transport mix. So transport strategies need to recognise and reflect the various contexts within which they are set. A strategy for a large conurbation will be different from one for a small market town with a large rural hinterland.
As in all other walks of life, financial, human and environmental resources are limited, and prioritisation of transport related challenges is essential if a strategy is to effectively address those of greatest importance. The key focus should be on the significance of the challenge, whether transport measures will be the most effective response and the certainty and impact of the outcomes in terms of economic, societal and environmental improvements.
The challenge for those developing transport strategies is to focus therefore not only on effectiveness, but on deliverability and in doing so to engage those who will be essential to successful delivery (i.e. infrastructure and service providers), the people and businesses that will benefit, and those who will be affected by any proposed measures.
Measures of success
A strategy is inherently long term in nature and it can be difficult, to evaluate success against specific non-transport outcomes, as a range of factors (both foreseen and unforeseen) will influence these over the planning horizons. So should we look for other measures of success?
It is important to measure direct impacts such as reduced congestion, more reliable journeys and better connectivity (particularly in opening up new economic opportunities). But it is also important to assess the extent to which a strategy influences economic, social and environmental policies, and facilitates desired spatial planning outcomes.
It is also essential that the transport strategy is seen as a means of prioritising investment options and informing capital investment decisions. There are many instances in the past of such decisions being made without the support of a coherent transport strategy, with costly consequences. A well conceived transport strategy provides evidence in support of priority identification at a national, regional or local level – reducing likelihood of investment being targeted in areas that are not aligned with these priorities. It will identify and appraise a range of possible interventions, determining the most cost-effective means of addressing these priorities – with effectiveness and deliverability of capital investment options considered alongside a range of other interventions (land use, technology, behavioural change etc.); in doing so identifying the most effective means of delivering the required outcomes.
The strategy will also provide the long term strategic framework within which to make short- or medium-term investment decisions – enhancing the likelihood of realising longer term, and potentially less affordable at present, capital investment options. Crucially, it will also facilitate meaningful stakeholder engagement, informing and validating identification of priorities and options to address them, including potentially less acceptable interventions, if these can be demonstrated as essential in delivering the required outcomes.
So why do you need a transport strategy? The existence of an effective and deliverable transport strategy is not a prerequisite to making investment decisions. However, it is invaluable in enabling the right decisions to be made at the right time and in the right sequence so that limited resources are effectively targeted and the benefits of investment maximised.
Andy Braithwaite BEng, DMS, CEng, Eur Ing, MICE, MCIHT, MCMI is a director at Transport Insights
Ciaran McKeon BE, Civil; P. Grad. Dip. Project Management; MCIHT is managing director of Transport Insights