Transport and travel choices have a huge impact on some of the most significant challenges facing government, says the Campaign for Better Transport The latest report from the Social Mobility Commission showed the impact of transport poverty on access to good jobs from remote areas, while in cities, it is the poorest who are most exposed to air pollution while contributing least to it. People on low-income are less likely to own a car, and therefore more likely to depend on buses to access jobs and services, get to the shops or simply connect with wider society. Nearly two thirds of jobseekers either have no access to a vehicle or cannot drive, and 40 per cent of people over 60 use the bus at least once a week. Public Health England has warned that increasing car use is a major contributing factor to lower levels of physical activity in the UK, yet regular physical activity can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases ranging from heart disease and diabetes to depression and dementia. Meanwhile traffic congestion is costing UK businesses billions of pounds a year, while transport emissions contribute to illegal levels of air pollution and CO2 emissions. Whether the primary concern is accommodating new homes, improving public health, tackling climate change or connecting people with jobs, getting transport policy right is central to success. Many communities are facing the challenge of finding sites for new homes without destroying what makes the surrounding area a good place to live. We need to build around 250,000 homes a year to keep up with demand, a target easy to quote but harder to meet. Building homes around existing transport hubs makes cities liveable; town centres viable, and makes best use of scarce land. It’s not just about locating developments in the right place, but getting the detail right too. The design of streets and estates can shape future travel choices, with bus-friendly layouts, low car parking provision and good quality walking and cycling links to town. The draft London Plan incorporates the idea of ‘healthy streets’ which reduce the dominance of vehicles, are easy to use on foot and by bike, and which connect to local walking and cycling networks, as well as public transport. This is an approach that every planning authority could embrace. Local authorities need the flexibility to work with developers to deliver improvements outside the red line of sites, including such basic provision as new pavements alongside existing roads. Highways England has a dedicated fund to match developer contributions to main road links; we need the same approach for sustainable transport connections.
The government’s Industrial Strategy talks up the potential for clean growth, stimulating markets for greener vehicles while protecting environmental quality. Electrification is central to a low carbon transport future and local authorities can lead the way, using the planning system to promote off road charging points while managing public parking and kerbside to maximum effect. Meeting air quality targets has risen up the agenda as the awareness of the lethal effects of air pollution has grown, reinforced by a series of high profile court cases. The Clean Air Fund, announced in the Budget, could help deliver better and cheaper bus services, more funding for cycling and walking and other measures such as car clubs and bike hire at stations, low emission delivery vehicles, and electric vehicle charging points. Cleaning up transport can help cut CO2 emissions too. The UK Committee on Climate Change (UKCCC) advises that getting our CO2 budget back on track requires not just newer cars, but fewer cars, with a five per cent cut in vehicle miles needed. Passenger cars produce nearly 60 per cent of all CO2 emissions from road transport in the UK, compared with just five per cent from buses. As for moving goods, a shift from road to rail would pay dividends: rail freight produces 76 per cent less carbon dioxide, and up to 15 times less nitrogen oxide emissions and 90 per cent less small particulate matter, than the equivalent road journey. Local authorities can help by allocating sites for rail freight terminals and promoting consolidation schemes for smarter last mile journeys. There is real potential for mobility as a service to deliver accessible, affordable and sustainable transport through smart data and seamless ticketing. The public sector has a vital role to play, ensuring that the focus is less on vehicles and gadgets, and more on the potential to harness the data revolution for the public good.
We are already seeing exciting examples from local authorities across the country. In Reading, the council is developing a single smart card to cover car club, bike share and local buses. Oxford City Council, alongside Oxfordshire County Council, is pioneering a joint data platform shared with local transport operators. Relatively small scale interventions can also make a big difference. A recent Department for Transport evaluation of the £540 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund found that the programme was successful, particularly in reducing carbon emissions, delivering social and economic benefits and promoting physical activity. The projects reduced car use and successfully promoted bus use, cycling and walking and demonstrated very high value for money. There’s a similar success story from the Total Transport pilots, which joined up passenger transport services across health, education, and local authorities to cut costs and improve services. This contrasts with major road schemes: a 2017 study for CPRE, using data from official evaluation reports, found that major new roads increased traffic up to 47 per cent over 20 years, damaging the environment, and failing to deliver promised safety and economic benefits. The lessons for future investment are clear: local public transport and active travel bring best value and greatest benefit to communities. Buses are the unsung heroes of local transport, providing a lifeline to rural communities and keeping towns and cities moving. The Bus Services Act provides new models of partnership provision, enabling local authorities to introduce passenger-friendly initiatives like multi-modal and multi-operator ticketing, set common standards, co-ordinate services and control fares. Every £1 of public investment in buses provides between £3 and £5 of wider benefits. Connecting people to work enables bus commuters to generate £64 billion in economic output every year, and with each bus replacing up to 70 cars on the road, they help cut congestion too. The latest Euro VI diesel buses produce 95 per cent fewer emissions than previous models, and fewer emissions overall than a Euro 6 diesel car, making bus retrofit a smart investment to tackle air pollution.
Cycling and walking should be the normal choice for shorter journeys according to the government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS): it sets targets to double cycling and increase walking, to be delivered through Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plans (LCWIPs). Sustrans has recently quantified the economic benefits of meeting the CWIS targets: savings to the economy of £567 million each year would be realised from improved air quality alone, and it would also mean more than 8,300 premature deaths from air pollution would be prevented over ten years. Add in the pedestrian and pedal pound – Living Streets calculates that town centre walking and cycling projects can increase retails sales by 30 per cent – and the case for investing to deliver these targets is easily made. At present, there is a negative cycle in transport funding: local communities suffer the external costs of motor traffic such as pollution, road surface damage, congestion, and the tax paid on fuel and vehicles fails to offset this. The government’s Road Investment Strategy commits £15 billion for motorways and trunk roads which represent just three per cent of the network, while leaving local authorities facing a £12 billion backlog of road repairs. Plans to ring fence Vehicle Excise Duty for road spending from 2020 will be no solution if local authorities still miss out. Without a fair devolution of roads funds, communities face the unenviable prospect of paying twice: once through VED and again through local taxes and fares to maintain the streets they use every day. Instead we need a virtuous circle of fair charges, reflecting the true costs of transport choices, with investment in sustainable alternatives. Nottingham’s pioneering Workplace Parking Levy helping cut congestion and pollution while funding some of the best quality and well used public transport in the country. Forward-thinking motoring organisations are now debating how to make road charging fair and practical, rather than objecting to it on principle. Such schemes help make best use of road space, cut congestion, reduce illegal levels of air pollution and free up space for public transport and active travel in greener and more pleasant places. They are fairer too, ensuring the polluter pays, capturing some of the costs that traffic imposes and reinvesting in transport services for all. There’s huge potential for local transport to deliver benefits across the board, enhanced by growing devolution of powers. Now this needs to be matched with long term funding, both capital and revenue, to ensure that sustainable transport continues to thrive.