Transport and Society

Transport investment has been widening the inequality gap. Is it time for a fresh approach to deliver fairer and more efficient transport systems?

Improving mobility for people has been a key goal in transport policy for as long as transport policy has become part of the political discourse. These mobility based policies have failed even in their own terms. Policies to promote green transport modes and to curb car use have not resulted in cleaner, more efficient and fairer transport systems. Car dependency continues to grow and those with the poorest mobility find themselves increasingly isolated by a society that no longer serves the needs of people who rely on local access to services and who need better access to opportunity to participate fully in society.

Is it time to filter the government stake in transport invest through the scrutiny of audits of access to opportunity? Under current transport investment programmes, the most mobile are usually the greatest beneficiaries. It is not the role of government to widen the mobility gap in society.  If audits of access to opportunity show that investment does not deliver equitable access to opportunity it should not proceed. Audits of access to opportunity could shift the focus of Scottish Government transport investment towards smart places and cities which focus on the needs of people and the needs of places. Instead of spending the bulk of transport funding on roads and railways the projects would change to invest in streets for people and connections that support economic activity.

What do you think? Is it time to drop mobility goals from transport policy and start measuring changes in access rather then changes in travel demand as the primary measure of success?


  • Carbon offsetting is a particularly dark area of transport policy : might there not be environmental downsides from massive treeplanting in faraway countries of which we know little, and it is surely odd that the DfT consultation prioritise ticketed modes (starting with rail, which is already the environmentally most friendly mode) over private transport?

  • Making the stakes in Scotland’s railway clearer is important for all businesses and citizens. Scotland’s Railway Stakeholder Panel was created in 2015 as part of the franchise awarded to Abellio. The Panel helps scrutinise the performance of Scotland’s Railway, as well as bring insight and challenges to its work. In October 2020 the panel was relaunched with the appointment of CBI Scotland Director Tracy Black as chair, alongside senior representatives from Scotland’s key sectors. Women make up 55 per cent of the Panel’s membership who will focus on decarbonisation of the railway, the contribution Scotland’s Railway can make to the economic recovery, and how the railway grows again in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • This year in addition to the normal greetings, many of my Christmas cards contained a new message : “haven’t been on a train since March”.

    Transport historians will marvel that at a stroke a small group of epidemiologists led by Imperial College London reversed decades of UK policy by pronouncing that the private car was safer than bus or train, which became bracketed together in the newly pejorative term of “public transport”. Such was their hold on ministers fearful of being held liable for someone contracting coronavirus that even a quarter of a year later, when the wearing of face coverings became mandatory, the Governments of the Four Nations were still unable to endorse a return to previous travel behaviours.

    Instead chunks of roadspace were being carved out as Safer Spaces for socially-distanced active travel, while trains in particular were to be confined to those key workers who had to use them – and motoring volumes returned towards normal. And now at year’s end we see railway managers hoping that the environmental credentials of their empty trains will save them from the cuts that are inevitably coming over the horizon.

    In every direction 2020 has struck blows against equalities. How much easier it is to Work From Home when one has a large house and garden. What price the environment when there is PPE to be disposed of? And with such speed did civil liberties give way to lockdown, travel bans and to track and trace.

    Cycling and walking were said to be the big victors in those halcyon days of the first lockdown, when unseasonably warm weather gave the new normal a delicious novelty. How long will the new reality of returned lockdown in this harsh winter preserve these gains as employment plummets and no doubt the impact of the new vaccines takes longer than was hoped for to arrive?

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