TAPAS.network | 19 December 2022 | Editorial Opinion | Peter Stonham

Forecast: Stormy

Peter Stonham

PUBLICATION BY DfT of a new set of National Road Traffic Projections — interestingly renamed from the previous ‘Forecasts’ — crystallises a range of issues bubbling away to a prospective boiling point in respect of the horizons that those concerned with transport and mobility should realistically be working to. 

This potent mix includes the future of the economy, of social stability and Levelling Up, and of addressing climate change and achieving Net Zero. How all these elements combine in terms of a suitable transport policy is a yet unresolved conundrum. Detailed traffic projections for 2060 in this context seem a somewhat esoteric — and technocratic — distraction.

Such issues were much to the fore at the Local Transport Summit earlier this month. Not only did many of the speakers touch on some or all of these topics, but the fact that the event was held in Wales served to provide a really helpful ‘case study’ context, no more so than through the experience of a radical and eager young minister seeking to drive forward a future of change in transport, navigating a range of obstacles in so doing.

Elsewhere in this issue, we cover much of what went on at the Summit in Cardiff, and set out what the NRTP’s core message is, for England at least. And that is principally not about the actual numbers produced at all, given that there was no plausible scenario evident to the DfT team responsible for the projections that shows anything other than a rise in road traffic over the next 40 years.

A considerable number of expert observers will comment that a scenario of continuing road traffic growth cannot be a feasible basis on which to base any policy decisions, for both the reason of incompatibility with already stated Government commitments and intentions for decarbonisation and modal change. Furthermore, embracing the necessary market, regulatory and behavioural shifts — if they are to be material — will surely serve to significantly dampen any traffic growth that would ‘in normal circumstances’ have taken place.

The inconsistencies in both figurework and thinking continue to be under challenge by forensic academics like Professors Phil Goodwin and Greg Marsden. Both, in different ways, are tenaciously pointing out that contradictory positions are being put forward, not just by politicians but by public bodies and public servants in seeking to justify transport projects and investment whilst at the same time ostensibly accepting that an alternative future must be the basis of any trajectory to genuinely achieve net zero and deliver climate change temperature rise limitation.

quotations 5

Some believe that the majority of politicians are simply unable and unwilling to countenance spelling out the true magnitude of the challenge and the change required to bring our transport behaviour into line with the needs of the moment.

Some believe that the majority of politicians are simply unable and unwilling to countenance spelling out the true magnitude of the challenge and the change required to bring our transport behaviour into line with the needs of the moment.

They are presumed to fear that the public — the electorate — will go elsewhere if confronted with the real implications. But as Professor Peter Jones told the Summit in a timely aside, when politicians were asked in a trans-European survey what they think people will accept in terms of prioritising sustainable modes over car use in towns and cities, they believe it does not extend to the level of change required. In contrast when ordinary people are asked what they think is holding back that necessary change, they blame the politicians.

Either way, the prospects are of stormy weather ahead. Literally, in the case of growing incidences of climate induced freak and frequent damaging conditions, and metaphorically in continuing fractious argument between those seen as burying their heads in the sand, and those campaigning for an urgent change of course.

Even in the relatively simple matter of exposing the full background facts of the situation, the establishment is digging its heals in — be it ministers and the DfT in the case of the inputs for and access to their technical documents, and for agencies like National Highways in the shaping of their investment strategies and the logic and justification behind them.

In Wales, the situation is different, but perhaps has parallels. Minister Lee Waters has made considerable progress in bringing in policies like lower urban speed limits in the cause of road safety and neighbourhood lifestyle quality, but his strategy for radically supressing new road construction seems yet to be secure.

The Sloman review of whether and which of 50 road schemes should go ahead has been presented to the Welsh Government, but not yet published. Meanwhile, the prospects of some of the main projects surviving is suggested by the latest scheme pipeline publication.

It appears we will soon know if the radical agenda that Waters supports for Wales will win out, or pragmatic precautionary politics will be the victor. Whatever the result, we can be pretty sure that the battle will go on – in Wales, and elsewhere around the UK too. And we can be rather more confident about that prospect, than anything to be found in the new NRTP tabulations.

Peter Stonham is the Editorial Director of TAPAS Network

This article was first published in LTT magazine, LTT859, 19 December 2022.

Read more articles by Peter Stonham
Lessons from the Summit: thinking beyond the transport mantra
TRANSPORT PROFESSIONALS, whose role is essentially that of advisers and experts rather than decision makers, have to a significant extent become unrealistic, and perhaps complacent, in the degree to which they expect those with the authority to implement the ideas which the professionals believe are appropriate.
A Climate for Change?
ANOTHER REPORT from the experts, another apparent shrug of the shoulders from most of those who might usefully really take its worrying message on board. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now published its latest guidance on what the world must do to avoid an extremely dangerous future.
Consequences of the war could further hasten transport change
THE WAR IN UKRAINE has already shaken the world order to its foundations, and we still don’t know just how far further the consequences may go. But all the signs are that beyond the human catastrophe, the economic and social implications are likely to be profound and enduring. Higher domestic and industrial energy prices were already a fact of life and transforming home heating costs. Now they are set to re-model the transport equation too.
Read more articles on TAPAS
Is all our travelling just a basic human need - or are some of us simply justifying unrealistic expectations?
Movement is inherent to life, and travel is often regarded as a basic human right. But does this apply to all travel, at all times, by everyone? Can we prove scientifically that travel is an essential characteristic defining humanity? And what follows in a world where it is so unevenly available, and can be damaging as well as enlightening? Phil Goodwin examines the subject with a critical eye.
Lifestyle choice, not modal choice, needed to really tackle transport’s climate problem
ADDRESSING TRANSPORT'S climate change implications and very substantial carbon deficit is generally acknowledged to be something that must involve more than changing the fuels in the vehicles we use, as the Committee on Climate Change again emphasises in its critical new report to Government. It is the latest entity to be alarmed at the rate of progress towards Net Zero, and the apparent lack of urgency on that mission within Government, and recognition of its full required extent.
The Theoretical and Practical Limits to Demand Responsive Transport Services
As someone involved in studying and delivering community transport and dial-a-ride schemes from the 1980s, and more recently a consultant to one of the Rural Mobility Fund DRT projects, John Sutton believes he can offer some perspective and realism to the true prospects for DRT in the passenger transport spectrum. In this contribution he explores the theoretical and practical limits of DRT, and why these realities mean it can only be effective in limited niche markets and special circumstances, even with the deployment of the latest scheduling and communications technology.