Getting cities moving past “Covid fog” critical for success of levelling up 

New report explores how adaptive transport planning can help facilitate more trips to city centres in a sustainable way.

Published: 30 Jun 2022

By: Rob Mallows

Tagged: , ,

A Birmingham tram reflected in a wet platform

Enabling people to make more trips in and around our major cities is a challenge that city leaders and national government must tackle head on by making urban transport networks work better – within carbon constraints – if they are to achieve levelling up, according to a new report from the National Infrastructure Commission.

The Commission says cities will need to redouble efforts to make public transport networks and active travel options more attractive to get people out of their cars, but also be prepared to take steps to manage demand for car trips into city centres where viable alternatives exist. In turn, central government needs to ensure cities have long term, stable funding cycles to support fit-for-purpose mass transit systems.

While the long term impact of Covid on work patterns and demand for transport remains uncertain, the report warns that adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach will delay necessary investments that make sense in any future demand scenario, given the congestion currently experienced in many large cities.

However, the Commission also warns against wishful thinking that assumes travel will return to pre-Covid trends: “Uncertainty should be met with ambitious but adaptable plans that take account of possible changes in travel patterns, rather than doing nothing or continuing with existing plans”.

New public transport schemes or enhancements to existing services will have to be adaptive by design, with cities encouraged to consider “projects which can be modularised, with low regret first stages clearing the way for more ambitious later ones.”

Planners will need to pay attention to factors such as pricing, reliability, accessibility and safety, all of which impact on passengers’ willingness to swap their car for public transport, says the report.

The Commission emphasises that a push for better local transport systems should not come at the expense of the UK’s net zero commitments. Surface transport is the largest source of carbon emissions, and the sector faces a huge challenge to meet the interim targets in the government’s sixth carbon budget for 2035. While by 2050, the electrification of cars and vans on the road is expected to be all but complete, the earlier deadline is far more stretching – so city leaders, working with central government, need to find additional ways of cutting the carbon associated with urban travel.

Alongside public transport enhancements, policymakers should explore demand management techniques like road space reallocation or local congestion zone charges, says the report. The intention of any schemes should be to shift trips onto public transport in congested cities, rather than discourage people from making trips. The report stresses that “while fiscal measures to manage demand may generate some revenue which can be spent on improving local transport, the primary aim is to make best use of the available space in congested cities.”

National Infrastructure Commission Chair Sir John Armitt said:

“We must resist any idea that travelling into and around our cities is a social ill. Making it easier for more people to travel in and around them, in a low carbon way, is an economic and social necessity.

“With many cities already back to pre-pandemic road congestion levels, a shift in demand from cars to public transport and active travel is the most sustainable route open. In some places this transition will need to be supported by demand management schemes, carefully designed to shift rather than reduce journeys overall.

“More trips with fewer negative impacts would be challenging to deliver in normal times, but it’s doubly so with the fog of uncertainty generated by the pandemic. Cities have to remain ambitious in their visions for the future, but base that ambition on plans which are flexible enough to cope with whatever the future holds.”

Today’s report highlights the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the urban work environment, with 14 per cent of adults working exclusively from home and 24 per cent of people working to some sort of ‘hybrid’ pattern last month. And while visits to workplaces in the seven largest cities outside London have increased in recent months, data from Google show they are still 30 per cent lower than before the pandemic.

– Ends –

Notes 

  • As part of its work on the second National Infrastructure Assessment, the Commission is examining the role of infrastructure in supporting the levelling up agenda. Part of that includes a specific strand of work focused on urban mobility and congestion, looking at how mass transit systems can improve productivity in UK cities and city regions, alongside demand management measures.
  • Today’s report reflects the Commission’s developing policy thinking and the areas of urban transport planning on which it will make recommendations to government – including on funding – in the final Assessment, due in 2023. 

Share this article

<

Recent Articles

Coming up in 2022
Thumbtack pins in calendar concept for busy, appointment and meeting reminder

Coming up in 2022

This page shows a calendar reflecting the latest expected dates for Commission reports, publications and events. You can also sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter by entering your email address in the box at the very foot of our homepage; or sign up to receive updates specifically on the programme for the second National...

22 Feb 2022 By
Armitt on drought resilience: fixing leaks, reducing demand, building supply
Dry soil and patchy grass

Armitt on drought resilience: fixing leaks, reducing demand, building supply

In a comment piece for The Times’ Red Box, Commission Chair Sir John Armitt today sets out steps to help reduce the risk of future severe drought in England. The piece, reproduced below, argues for further action on identifying leaks, expanding water metering and reducing consumer demand, and building new supply and transfer infrastructure. Sir...

8 Aug 2022 By
Commission hears from Bristol about city’s infrastructure priorities
Bristol Civic Centre

Commission hears from Bristol about city’s infrastructure priorities

Friday last week (22 July) saw Commissioners in Bristol for our fourth regional visit of the summer, meeting the city’s Mayor and local leaders and businesses, and local residents, to understand the city’s infrastructure challenges. After a one-to-one meeting, Sir John Armitt and the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees co-hosted a roundtable with representatives from...

25 Jul 2022 By
West Yorkshire leaders engage on region’s infrastructure goals
Leeds from the air

West Yorkshire leaders engage on region’s infrastructure goals

Yesterday (5 July) saw Commissioners up in Leeds for our third regional visit of the summer, meeting West Yorkshire leaders and businesses to better understand the city region’s infrastructure priorities. After a one-to-one meeting, Sir John Armitt and West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin co-hosted a roundtable with representatives from the combined authority, Leeds City Council,...

6 Jul 2022 By

Evidence_Icon_Turquoise Created with Sketch.

Explore data used in the Commission's research, and gain insights from across UK infrastructure

Join our team of professionals supporting the Commission to provide evidence based and forward thinking advice on infrastructure strategy.