Transport strategies should be integrated. They need to be, if they are to be successful in the long term. They should be based on an understanding of who travels where, by what mode, how that is likely to change, and whether that can be influenced. Planning for each mode in isolation is easier, but inefficient, because the plans for each mode impact on the others, and frequently conflict. A plan for one mode might look quite sensible in isolation, but be completely ineffective because it fails to understand the characteristics of the travel markets it competes in.
Transport also suffers from an inherent tension between the needs of travellers and the communities they travel in. The tension gets worse, the longer the journeys. Often there is a mixture of local trips, longer trips and through trips, all competing for attention. There are often two levels of government responsible, sometimes more.
While a perfectly-integrated transport strategy is impractical, transport strategies will be far more effective if these issues are considered and addressed, even if only at a high level.
Taking London as an example, you can segment the transport market into three – journeys in inner/central London, journeys in outer London, and journeys from outer to central London. The three markets are very different. Inner/central journeys are dominated by sustainable modes, with less than 20% by car. In contrast, the car accounts for about 60% of journeys in outer London; driving is very much the norm. Journeys from outer London to central London are 80% rail.
Clearly, London’s transport strategy needs a strong focus on rail – how to provide for the large commuter flows between outer and central London with tolerable levels of overcrowding. But that needs to be woven into the rest of the strategy. Rail commuting creates a distribution issue in central London. It’s important to get rail services as close to the City as practical, but there’s also a strategic interest in facilitating walking from the rail termini (hire bikes are almost irrelevant, given the scale of the task). Improving the walking environment makes central London more attractive as a leisure/shopping destination, making better use of the comprehensive rail service. Rail also suffers from increasing overcrowding as you get closer to the centre – there’s a strategic interest in diverting some of this demand away from rail.
The low usage of cars in Inner London provides an unexploited opportunity. There’s quite a bit of through traffic and freight traffic on Inner London main roads, but local trips are dominated by sustainable modes. The local interest is to improve the sustainable modes further, with little interest in providing for cars. The strategic interest is to discourage car-commuting (which makes other road journeys unreliable), but also to provide alternatives to using rail services into central London (which are overcrowded). While the space available is highly constrained, there is a co-incidence of interests in promoting buses and cycling. In particular, given adequate provision on main roads, cycling could become ubiquitous, not just for commuting into central London, but for a much wider range of journey purposes, and with a broader demographic.
The situation in outer London is quite different. Local journeys are a little more dispersed, and orbital public transport less effective. Through journeys are concentrated on a few high-capacity roads. A large proportion of local journeys are still concentrated on education and shopping (and are predominantly short-distance), but car ownership is high, congestion intermittent, and car-usage is frequently the norm. High car usage creates a health, pollution and carbon problem. It also constrains the opportunities for non-car-owners. But policy is likely to be focused on creating opportunities to use alternatives to the car, rather than explicitly restricting car use. Take up of alternatives is likely to be slow. Conversely, there is less pressure on roadspace, and fewer through journeys. So there will be more opportunities to moderate traffic speed and to take space for cycling. Rather than a radical transformation, the strategic interest lies more in applying continuous support for incremental change.
That’s a very high-level survey of the interactions between journey patterns and modes, but I think it already indicates that there is significant value to be gained from looking at transport in an integrated way. This allows policies to be adopted that are more likely to be successful, and more likely to fit together into an effective overall approach.