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Smarter travel: Is just an eddy or really part of the mainstream?

Travelling in the right direction

Greg Hartshorn, ATKINS
Signage and information form part of Southampton’s Legible City scheme
Signage and information form part of Southampton’s Legible City scheme
Slough Hospital staff learn how to drive the ‘Smart Way’ on a simulator
Slough Hospital staff learn how to drive the ‘Smart Way’ on a simulator
Engaging with school children in Slough
Engaging with school children in Slough
Freshers’ Fayre in Peterborough
Freshers’ Fayre in Peterborough
A sustainable transport day aimed at the commercial sector in Cheltenham
A sustainable transport day aimed at the commercial sector in Cheltenham

 

Is ‘smarter travel’ now part of mainstream transport planning and delivery by local authorities? The team at Atkins has taken the opportunity to ask some of the many local authorities we are supporting in delivering their Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) programmes for their views. 

Moving to mainstream

The concept of smarter travel – the multi-faceted promotion of sustainable modes of travel – has been around for some time, and the ambition that it will form part of the transport ‘mainstream’ has been around since at least 2005 (with the launch of the seminal report Smarter Choices – Changing the way we travel). So why are we still asking the question?

Historically, smarter travel has not been a particular focus of government at national level. Whilst the advent of Local Transport Plans (LTPs) meant that a lot more money was available for local transport during the 2000s, local authorities spent a relatively small percentage of their budgets on smarter travel. In part, this was due to a lack of revenue funding to support behavioural change initiatives, but also due to a lack of the skills, guidance and political support to deliver locally.

However, current investment through LSTF, providing dedicated capital and revenue funding for smarter travel activities, means that a greater share of transport spending and activity locally is on smarter travel. Smarter travel spending has of course received further boosts from other funds such as the Better Bus Area Fund, Linking Places Fund and Cycle City Ambition Grant. Despite the loss of the Commission for Integrated Transport and, more recently, Cycling England, there is more funding available for smarter travel and smaller transport schemes than ever before.

Amongst the local authorities Atkins is working with, the momentum created by the Government behind smarter travel, and cycling in particular, is welcomed. As Thomas Evans, LSTF project officer at Gloucestershire County Council, explains: “The LSTF has provided a welcome focus and highlighted the role that smarter travel can have as part of an overall transport programme. Concentrating on a smaller geographic area has enabled improvements to have a higher impact on locally identified issues.”

Joe Carter, Slough Borough Council’s LSTF programme director, has a similar view: “The LTSF programme has allowed us to focus significant resources on changing the travel behaviour of those contributing most to congestion in Slough. We expect the programme to make a tangible difference to employees, employers and school children.”

In itself, though greater investment in the short-term does not make smarter travel mainstream. Rather, smarter travel can only move into the mainstream when it can become sustainable. The LSTF initiative offers a real opportunity to achieve this by:

  • encouraging LSTF’s smarter travel activities to become fully integrated with other programmes (such as those relating to the LTP and developments)
  • demonstrating the value of LSTF’s smarter travel to engender political and stakeholder support, and ultimately secure long-term funding.

Integrating smarter travel

Of course, local authorities are busy on other smaller transport projects besides those funded by LSTF, the LTP programme being the most obvious example. Some of these projects are similar to what we see in LSTF programmes, such as walking and cycling projects. However, the LTP programme, developer-funded schemes, and those funded through the Better Bus Area Fund are about capital expenditure, so generally there is little opportunity to undertake ‘softer’ behavioural change activities such as workplace and schools travel planning, promotion and marketing. 

The LSTF provides the revenue to finance such activities, albeit in selected areas, and brings extra investment to support capital schemes which are additional to those in the LTP programme.

The extra funding invested in a location, and a focus on targeted improvements in end-to-end journeys, means that LSTF can have much more impact in those areas in which it is deployed. LSTF, therefore, offers an excellent role model, but we should remember that many parts of England currently receive no LSTF money. Even in local authority areas which are receiving such funding, initiatives are ring-fenced geographically, with, in many cases, urban areas taking priority. 

Rob Murphy, LSTF programme manager, Wiltshire Council makes this point: “There is some integration of LSTF, particularly with our LTP programme, but part of the difficulty is that the LSTF project is somewhat area and theme specific.” It’s also worth noting that LSTF-type intervention may not work everywhere, as Murphy highlights: “In predominately rural areas where car ownership levels are, by necessity, relatively high, mainstreaming cycling and smarter choices will be difficult.” 

Having said this, there is evidence that integration of LSTF activities gives local authorities the opportunity to deliver authority-wide initiatives that may otherwise have been unaffordable, adding value to LSTF, developer-funded, Pinch Point and LTP programmes. In Gloucestershire, for example, LSTF has helped to deliver smartcards, real-time passenger information and intelligent bus priority as well as a common brand. The county council’s Thomas Evans explains: “The brand developed for the LSTF programme is being used to promote a range of mainstream passenger transport information and services. Also, a legacy of our LSTF programme will be a range of services linked by a common brand that is more recognised by the public and which will continue to be used by the council after the LSTF programme has finished.” 

Integration of LSTF into other programmes, including developer-funded schemes, public realm and public transport projects can therefore bring mutual benefits which add value by increasing the impacts on both sides. Adrian Webb, LSTF programme manager at Southampton City Council, notes that: “LSTF measures contribute to our integrated transport programme to meet our LTP aims. We deliver coordinated projects across funds to ensure greater impact and value for money.”

If we can do this right, we can use the legacy of LSTF investment now to support projects funded in other ways for many years to come, in LSTF areas and elsewhere. 

Demonstrating the value of smarter travel

Over the last ten years, various projects have sought to demonstrate the potential of smarter travel measures to change travel behaviour, among them: Cycling Demonstration Towns, Sustainable Travel Demonstration Towns and the Cycling City and Towns Programme. Evaluation of such projects has tended to focus more on benefits to health than outcomes relating to creating growth or cutting carbon.

If smarter travel is to move into the mainstream, practitioners need to secure sustained funding, both to deliver infrastructure, and to continue to pay for the pool of skilled smarter travel officers which local authorities have worked hard to build up. In turn, this requires sustained political and stakeholder support and a clear set of evidence-based achievements. Whether local authority officers look for funding from existing council budgets or elsewhere, such as the Local Growth Fund, they will need to convince decision-makers of the benefits of smarter travel, and in particular, the role of smarter travel in delivering local economic growth. This view is shared by a number of our clients.

Joe Carter from Slough Borough Council is clear on what local decision-makers are interested in: “The key objectives of our LSTF programme are to help our residents into work and improve trading conditions for local businesses. We are participating in the Department for Transport’s LSTF evaluation programme so that we can understand better how well we are achieving these objectives.”

Wiltshire’s Rob Murphy shares this view: “I see having a good, robust and locally relevant evidence base as essential in getting decision-makers to champion smarter travel.”

Meeting this goal will be a tall order for any individual authority, meaning that LSTF authorities nationally must come together to identify credible evidence of how investment in smarter travel can create growth, as well as cut carbon and bring health benefits. The level of smarter travel activity across the country part-funded by LSTF is phenomenal, but we are still in the early days of providing enough robust evidence to convince big business of the benefits of investing in walking, cycling and all the other facets of smarter travel. There is also a tendency to focus on monitoring inputs and outputs rather than outcomes, which could limit the evidence base. The DfT’s plans for a formal study to evaluate the impacts of the LSTF programme is therefore most welcome, but it will be some time before the results of this work are known.

The 2013 Spending Round has given some much-needed certainty to future levels of the Integrated Transport Block. However, this funding is not ring-fenced for transport, let alone smarter travel. Local authorities may therefore turn their attention to securing a share of the Local Growth Fund. 

To date, the degree of engagement with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) by local authorities on this issue has been mixed. But it is important that all authorities begin this process before LEPs finalise their Strategic Economic Plans in December.  Also, local authorities need to work internally to earmark funding for smarter choices measures to support economic growth and to help local authorities achieve their statutory duties in relation to carbon emissions, air quality and congestion.

Southampton’s Adrian Webb says: “The reduction in the allocation to integrated transport pots for highway authorities post 2015, and the money being diverted through to LEPs, presents opportunities and threats to the delivery of behaviour change programmes, including the loss of those in favour of larger scale sub-regional projects.”

Compelling body of evidence

So, it is only when we can demonstrate the role of smarter travel within the wider toolkit of interventions, and show how it can help to achieve the ambitions of businesses, local authorities and communities, thereby securing support and funding, that we can claim that smarter travel has become mainstream. It is only then that smarter travel will be funded by choice from more traditional funding sources, rather than through a ring-fenced pot such as LSTF. 

There is an onus on all practitioners to seek out this evidence and share it amongst the LSTF community. Together, the knowledge we can collate and share will result in a body of evidence that is much more compelling than its individual parts.

All these things are achievable, and smarter travel is on a crest at the moment. Now is the time to take advantage of the momentum kick-started by LSTF to ensure not only that we deliver our programmes successfully, but that we can capture the benefits of doing so.  

The author

Greg Hartshorn is Atkins’ director of Transport Policy & Strategy. Atkins would like to thank those involved for their participation in this article.

Find out more about the Mainstreaming Smarter Travel event on the 3-4 December 2013


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