How can we improve transport in Britain? GeoVation Powwow.
A summary of the Problem Pow Wow facilitated at the London Museum of Transport on 19 January, 2011.
Summary: 15 people. 115 problems. 5 themes. 24 insights.
We asked: “What are the barriers to developing transport solutions that have a positive environmental, social and economic impact?”
1. Modes of transport Key problems associated with: attributes of; comparisons of; and links between various modes of transport.
1 Modes of transport: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How can the dominance of ‘car culture’ ever be challenged when it beats all other forms of transport on so many issues that people care about? Whether it’s personal comfort, safety or privacy, or expressing who you are or the status to which you aspire, cars are the natural choice. There are over 31m cars on the roads in the UK – less than 2 people per car.
2 Modes of transport: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you help travellers better understand the reality of how long journeys on different modes of transport take? People underestimate journey times by car (it always takes longer) and overestimate public transport (it is usually quicker).
3 Modes of transport: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you design a better bike friendly ‘eco system’ that encourages mass adoption of cycling? There are too many immediate barriers to bikes being more widely used: they make you dirty; cycle routes can be unsafe; weather makes it unpleasant; you are limited to what can be carried. In London alone 23,000 bikes were reported stolen in 2010 with unreported thefts estimated to add another 40,000 to 60,000.
4 Modes of transport What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you better connect the various modes of transport in Britain to enable a more holistic approach? While bike stores at stations and park & ride schemes help, the reality of most peoples’ journeys (distance, time, what they take), means they tend to consider only one, rather than multiple, modes of transport per journey.
5 Modes of transport: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you join up initiatives like vehicle share schemes that can often work well at a local level, so they work well nationally? Local transport initiatives are locally based: it isn’t easy enough for people to share capacity in vehicles (for example), from one locality to the next; geographic boundaries, multiple operators, knowing who’s going where all get in the way.
2. Human behaviour Key problems associated with how we naturally behave when it comes to transport.
1. Human behaviour: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you break entrenched habits and allow people to have an experience from which new, more positive habits will form? It often takes a dramatic event to jolt us out of our daily routine and adopt a new behaviour (a strike, an accident, volcanic ash…) but we soon slip back into old habits. Scientific research shows that a habit takes from around 30 to 45 days to change.
2. Human behaviour: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you help people better understand the impact of their transport behaviours? The consequences of how people travel are not visible enough, quickly enough, for them to chose an alternative; assuming they care…
3. Human behaviour: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you allow people to feel they are making personal choices and retaining their independence regardless of transport mode? One reason why cars dominate is due to the independence (of choice and control) they afford the owner, but surely smart design could similarly empower users of other modes?
4. Human behaviour: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do we better manage the effects of, or perhaps even counter hypermobility (the tendency for people to increasingly travel greater distances with more ease that the previous generation)? It has never been easier or cheaper to travel globally, yet it is also a time when arguably we should do less of it from an environmental perspective. We expect to be able to do so, and frequently do.
5. Human behaviour: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you ensure people have a more objective understanding of the risks associated with different modes of transport? In 2009 1,059 car user fatalities were reported in the UK versus 14 for bus/coach users.
3. Economics Key problems associated with the economic aspects of our transport systems.
1 Economics: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do we achieve a more transparent and aligned framework that allows Govt. and commercial interests to sit alongside and be informed by the needs of the consumer? Consumers’ needs can be so varied and ultimately complex that Govt. and commercial bodies tend to develop one size fits all approaches. This leads to distrust in the system: “transport taxes are not as clear as water rates”.
2 Economics: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you make a sound economic argument to convince people (consumers, policy makers, companies) to see investment in previous transport solutions as a sunk cost and switch? Once invested in, people naturally want to get bang for their buck and are unlikely to give up (their car, policy, technology), unless the rationale to do so is overwhelming.
3 Economics: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you break the desire for quick returns and enable a much longer term approach to investment that meets the needs of urban and rural communities? Radical solutions enable better economic, environmental & social value may take decades and £ billions but those in power work in much shorter cycles (of about five years…).
4. Infrastructure Key problems associated with the infrastructure and enabling technologies of our transport systems.
1. Infrastructure: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you use existing infrastructure so that it helps enable rather than prevent new transport solutions? New solutions require testing at scale. What if existing infrastructure (whether active or dormant) were occasionally used as a test bed?
2. Infrastructure: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you create a more harmonious environment to allow for transport in and around the places where people live and work? Town planning often seems to happen in silos: layouts designed with cars more than people in mind, signage not integrated, a lack of footpaths…
3. Infrastructure: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How could you capitalise on making improvements to current transport infrastructure that will free up money to invest in future solutions? Pot holes in roads and copper stolen from rail ways cost £ billions each year. Solve these problems and the money saved could be invested in longer term projects.
4. Infrastructure: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How can we better measure resource use in our transport infrastructure to better understand performance in its most holistic sense? A lot of money is unwittingly wasted due to key metrics note being tracked. For example, stopping electric trains at stations burns huge amounts of energy and are simply not accounted for.
5. Infrastructure: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you build an infrastructure that that is truly inclusive for all who want to use it irrespective of location and mode of transport? There appears to be investment in buses in London for example, that have automatic ramps as opposed to manual ramps in more rural areas; requiring more planning and causing inconvenience.
6. Infrastructure: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you build a UK wide transport timetable that enables users to plan a journey to and from anywhere in the UK on any mode of transport? Planning a multi-leg, multi-transport journey can feel like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle when you haven’t got the box.
5. Users’ experience Key problems associated with the design of the user experience when they use the transport system.
1. Users’ experience: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you go beyond collaborative design of cars or bikes and meaningfully engage users in the design of transport systems as a whole? The parts of a transport system are typically designed in isolation which results in a poor experience for users as they navigate their way across the various parts.
2. Users’ experience: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you make the inevitabilities of public transport (slow, late, congested) matter less to those that experience them? Systems fail at some point in a way that affects the end user but if failures can be anticipated and users provided with a way to positively manage the problem, in an engaging way, then the experience improves.
3 Users’ experience: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do we better exploit the shift towards a 24/7 society and better displace some of the current strains on the transport network? Why have a rush hour if working practices become more flexible? During the Sydney Olympics, deliveries were restricted to post 11 pm. Boris’s Bikes aim to ease pressure on peak tubes.
4 Users’ experience: What is the problem? Why does it matter? How do you make sustainable transport more desirable? Sustainable transport isn’t seen as very ‘sexy’ or ‘trendy’ and has a long way to go to compete with cars as a status symbol.