Why do I need a transport strategy?

Why do I need a transport strategy?

What is the role of a transport strategy, and what are the benefits of an effective and deliverable one?

Transport strategies are developed to form part of, or complement, a structured planning framework, generally commissioned by national, sub-national or local government, or an agency on their behalf. They inform or support policy (such as economic development, education and health) and/or capital investment programmes. The principal reasons for their development is to better align the efforts, activities and the risk bearing of all players: public, private and the community / voluntary sector. In doing so, strategies seek to deliver societal and environmental benefits while minimising costs; and to secure outcomes that the market on its own would fail to deliver.

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 inclusion) and environmental improvement. Other outcomes such as health and quality of life are equally relevant, although transport may sometimes represent a more indirect contributing factor in their achievement.

How can a transport strategy most effectively deliver these outcomes? Influencing behaviour is the fundamental driver of change and, for transport, this means the behaviour of transport users, infrastructure / service providers and regulators, as well as 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 a status symbol. Modern life is also complicated with families juggling commuting, travel to education, shopping and leisure trips – often one trip serves two or more purposes.

Travel choices also depend 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, resources – financial, human and environmental – are limited, and a prioritisation of transport related challenges is essential if a strategy is to ultimately address those of greatest importance. The key focus here should be on the significance of the challenge, its tractability through cost effective transport related interventions and the outcome in terms of economic, societal and environmental impacts.

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 invariably draw upon its outputs during strategy scoping and development stages.

It can be difficult, however to evaluate success against specific non transport outcomes, as a range of factors (both foreseen and unforeseen) will influence them over the long term planning horizons that typify transport strategies. Are there other measures of success? Potentially so, by considering the extent to which a strategy influences and facilitates spatial planning or economic development policies, or shapes capital investment programmes. In this light, it is worth considering the role of transport strategies as a means of informing wider capital investment decisions. There are many instances in the past of such decisions being made without the support of a coherent transport strategy. Transport strategies can, however:

  • provide 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
  • 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.) and in doing so identify the most effective means of delivering the required outcomes
  • 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
  • facilitate meaningful stakeholder engagement, to inform and validate 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 demonstrating that the right decisions have been made, particularly where there is a wide range of stakeholder interests, and in ensuring that limited resources are effectively targeted.

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