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Transport appraisal ‘at odds with decarbonising transport’


12 June 2020

The Government must reform transport appraisal to support the decarbonisation agenda, a consultant has said.  

The case for change is put forward by independent consultant Keith Buchan, the director of skills at the Transport Planning Society, in a paper that has been submitted to the DfT.

“Carbon emissions are pretty much irrelevant in the current system of transport appraisal,” he says. “Leaving to one side its valuation, the current measurement unit is wrong. We have a target date by which change must be achieved – 2050. CO2 persists in the atmosphere for about 100 years. 

“We know that what counts is the total warming impact between now and 2050. The measurement should, therefore, not be tonnes emitted (as now) but tonne years.  This would make the reduction of CO2 now much more important – as it should and must be.”

Buchan says the problem is exacerbated by how CO2 from new schemes is assessed, echoing comments made by Phil Goodwin in his LTT column of 03 April.

“If a road scheme is proposed, and time savings calculated and valued for the many thousands of drivers in future years, the carbon they produce in driving is not counted,” says Buchan. “What is counted is the marginal change in carbon they produce with and without the scheme.

“Either we include the cost of all the carbon as a disbenefit,” he says, “or accept that the current appraisal system is not fit for purpose.”

James Price, the chief executive of Transport for Wales, expressed concern that transport appraisal methods were unsuited to assessing climate change last year (LTT 06 Dec 19).  

Turning to appraisal more broadly, Buchan says Covid-19 has invalidated all current transport forecasts. “None of the forecasts we currently have for road, rail or air travel have any validity going forward.”

His paper appears in a compendium put together by environmental group the North West Transport Activists Roundtable, co-ordinated by Lillian Burns. She hopes the papers will influence the thinking of the DfT’s forthcoming transport decarbonisation plan. 

Other contributors to the compendium are Lisa Hopkinson, Lynn Sloman, Alistair Kirkbride and John Whitelegg.

Hopkinson and Sloman worked together on the series of transport decarbonisation briefings published by Friends of the Earth last year (LTT 15 Feb, 10 May & 07 Jun 19). 

In his paper, environmental transport academic John Whitelegg says that, in the aftermath of Covid-19, there is a need to change decision-makers’ mindsets. “The challenge for all of us now, but especially for politicians still embedded in a 1960s world of big infrastructure (more roads, HS2, more airport capacity), is to transform mindsets and thinking so that we can capture the quieter roads and improved air quality we have seen in recent weeks.”

Calling for HS2 and the roads programme in England to be scrapped, he quips: “We have £107bn plus £27bn in the mobility transformation fund.”

l To receive a copy of the compendium, email Lillian Burns at brllln@aol.com

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