Martin Tugwell's Presidential blog - 14 July

17th Jul 2019

Last week I attended an event organised by the Independent Transport Commission which is looking at the policy implications of changes in peak hour travel. The debate – which was wide-ranging and stimulating – started me thinking about the issue of our congested roads and the need to ‘do something’.

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But first I found myself asking: just what is the question that we’re trying to answer?

If it’s a question of too many cars on the road, perhaps agile working might help. But wait: experience suggests that any relief achieved by some people making that switch quickly gets lost as others take up the space that has been created.

Result: same road, same level of congestion only with a different mix of people.

Is it a question of reducing the environmental impact of congestion? Do we need to encourage vehicle manufacturers to accelerate their investment in cleaner vehicles? Now we’re starting to explore solutions that are less about transport policy and more about business enterprise.

But if all we do is substitute one tin-box, with another tin-box (albeit one that is ‘cleaner’ in terms of emissions), does it do anything to improve quality of life? What does it mean for the long term sustainability of our towns?

So is it actually a question of how do we reduce the need to travel? Is it about identifying our expectations more in terms of the level of access to different services and opportunities? In which case, it may be a question of redesigning business models so that they can exploit the opportunities created by digital connectivity.

Earlier this year the CIHT’s Annual Learned Society lecture heard Glenn Lyons talk about the shift in thinking, towards a world in which looks to shape the future by ‘Decide and Provide’.

Glenn led the CIHTs work on FUTURES a couple of years ago. What struck me at the time was the ease with which our members were able to develop a whole range of plausible future scenarios, each of which is valid in their own right but not all of which conveniently fit our traditional approach to assessing the merits of schemes.

At a time when ‘business as usual’ is not the answer moving forward, now more than ever we need to use our experience, knowledge and skill to shape the question being asked.

We have the ability to be not just the advocates of change, but champions of its delivery. And that starts by being sure that the question we’re answering is the right one, not necessarily the one that someone has chosen to set for us.

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