Total Transport needs Total Recognition and Total Funding

posted 18 Apr 2015, 04:39 by Roy McDonald   [ updated 18 Apr 2015, 04:39 ]
18 April 2015

Several items relating to bus operations have caught my attention recently.


Future Years, the Yorkshire and Humber Forum on Ageing, has partnered with the University of Hull to evaluate the economic and social benefits of concessionary transport, and gather evidence on the value of Community Transport (CT). The study is expected to highlight how cuts to the funding of bus services and the lack of public transport can have a detrimental social impact on communities and exacerbate loneliness and social exclusion, especially amongst older people.


Similarly, a recently published study for Transport Scotland into the benefits of CT has clearly demonstrated that it offers a wide range of economic, social and health benefits. The study highlights that from a social perspective, the contribution of CT across a wide range of policy areas is clearly beneficial. It is not just Community Transport, but public transport, as a whole, which addresses issues such as poor accessibility and social isolation. The message is clear that transport  reduces inequalities, which, in turn, generates cost savings to social services, the NHS and local authorities.


Thirdly, this weekend, the Cross-River night buses between Liverpool and Wirral are being withdrawn due to cuts to their funding by Merseytravel.


Merseytravel is faced with some very difficult choices in the funding of “socially necessary bus services” within a limited budget. Notwithstanding the contribution that night buses make to the night-time economy and supporting crime prevention and security in the city centre, the provision of bus services enabling people to travel home from a night out in the City will rank below the provision of home to school buses, the daytime bus links to the hospital or the early morning buses to the workplace.


All this illustrates the dilemma faced by transport authorities. As the Passenger Transport Executives Group (Pteg) noted in the report Total Transport - Working across sectors to achieve better outcomes, “Too often,… transport is overlooked by those sectors that stand to benefit most from it… the consequence is that the transport sector itself bears the vast majority of the costs for interventions whose primary benefits accrue to other policy areas”.


It is easy for everyone to complain about the lack of, or the withdrawal of transport services, but the reality is that the provision of (and funding for) transport is usually overlooked by those sectors that stand to benefit most from it. As pteg notes, this downplaying of the role of transport might be due to a failure to grasp the importance of public and community transport to a large proportion of the population. More likely, it is that other sectors are reluctant to recognise the importance of transport to achieving their goals for fear that they might be obligated to make a funding contribution towards it.


At the end of March, the DfT announced the 37 lucky authorities in England who were successful in winning bids to the Total Transport Pilot Fund.   The Fund will provide £7.6 million to sponsor a range of feasibility studies as well as a number of pilot projects to “test the real-world scope for service integration in individual areas”.


Now don’t get me wrong, as a consultant, the funding of feasibility studies is a boost – and any new money into transport is welcome, but £7.6 million between 37 projects over two years isn’t going to change the world – and what happens when the study money runs out?


As much of the experience in Accessibility Planning has previously demonstrated, when these collaborative approaches are led by the transport agency, other partners tend to regard the identification of the issues, problems and solutions as transport related, and securing buy-in and commitment – let alone any financial contribution - can be difficult. As soon as it becomes clear that there is little or no new money and the task is about releasing the grip on the purse strings, interest in partnership working quickly wanes.


All this simply re-emphasises what we, as transport planners, already know.


But it, again, reinforces the message that transport crosses many sectoral boundaries and shouldn't carry the burden of social funding alone. Isn’t it right that other sectors should contribute to support our transport networks?


It is time that this was properly recognised.