The Tube’s roundel is an iconic piece of culture, but it is no less prominent than the image of a red bus or a black taxi. All of these modes of transport are inherently English and it is not without reason. Interest in sustainable transport has soared in recent years with environmental impacts helping to drive policy towards a healthier future. With transport being the one of the most important policy areas in England its functionality ensures that Her Majesty’s Kingdom operates with its head way above water. Transport’s prominence has risen in England’s capital more than in any other city and London has been endowed with the monstrous efforts of transport providers for over a century amassing billions of miles during that period. According to Social Trends (2010, Ch.12, No. 40) there was a 275% increase in distance travelled between 2007 & 1952.
However, transport planners and strategists need to be able to create an equally monumental policy plan to sustain methods which can help to reduce growth rates in car ownership and promote the continued use of public services. Transport goes hand in hand with town planning but by factoring in the migration of the workforce, how on Earth can we develop an environmentally friendly and liveable city for the next 50 years?
Examples of recent calamitous decisions taken by the government include Nick Boles’s incumbent intentions to build into the green belt to offer a broader living spaces and the proposed plans to build a tunnel through one of London’s most deprived boroughs. Both have detrimental environmental and health impacts, which is especially ironic for Tower Hamlets given that the London Mayor has committed to regenerate and tackle deprivation (Mayor’s Transport Strategy, 2010, p.288). In retrospect, the government has made it abundantly clear that the expansion of the road network is more important than building a stronger public transport network.
The government have also blundered with HS2’s excesses of over £8bn recently added to the programme budget, it has drawn continued criticism. According to the Guardian, economic yields have drastically dropped and this cannot be seen as a reasonable economic decision, especially after £11.5bn cuts were announced last week (week ending 29th June 2013). Such incompetency will not garner support for the moral fibre of a campaign to build a sustainable transport product. Despite such frivolous spending, it is worthwhile considering that policy goals have no monetary presence in the decision-making process. The government White Paper, A New Deal for Transport (1998) still seeks to quell the careless use of the car and promote public transport and to some extent it is succeeding (Social Trends, 2010).
London Underground recently earmarked 150 years of established service by taking customers on a trip through history. The parade highlighted how far commuter transport services have come over the last century and a half but it also helped spread a thinly veiled message: “Transport is central to London’s existence.”
Peter Tollington, a senior executive at London Underground stated at a private conference that demand on service will soar by an estimated 20% in the next ten years. In order to maintain a sustained a level of growth to cater for such demand, London Underground will attempt to deliver between 33-65% increased traffic by 2020.
It is clear that the government has not really set a policy plan, it is an ambition that they will attempt to deliver. Alternatively, the continuing unpredictable dynamics of the population could cause their ambitions to shift. Similarly, it will require other stakeholders and partners to fulfill equally ambitious plans, like those set out by Peter Tollington.
At present the Mayor’s transport plan has set a committed to a more integrated system (as set out in 1998), better freight services, improved connectivity, delivering on Crossrail and HS2, better maintenance plans- minimising disruptions, improved capacity on rail and underground network and more (Mayor’s transport Strategy 2010, p.109-185). These ideas are similarly reflected in LU’s business plan and TfL’s surface transport plan.
In London at least, the policy guidance handed down via the Mayor’s Transport Strategy is being fulfilled by transport providers and not directly by local or national government. Nevertheless, dealing with another key issue will play a significant part it urging commuters and travellers to use public services more often: Reducing car usage. The conundrum however, is being able to enforce a policy which does not conflict with the government’s social mobility goals/model. Road pricing would be once such example of possible social exclusion, nevertheless the onus is to create a policy that can serve all the purposes: Therein lies the difficulty.