Moving forwards on transport and health

When we talk about transport and health it can feel like we’re in a hamster wheel of transport improves health, we could spend money from health budgets to improve transport and save health money, let’s get people active to improve health outcomes etcetera, etcetera… We talk about needing evidence, and being able to quantify the benefits. But we KNOW that getting people active and using public transport has benefits for public health and much, much more. So what’s stopping us? I attended the ‘Sustainable Transport and Health Summit’ last week in Bristol and some specific things struck me regarding the barriers to moving forward on these agendas and how we might start to overcome them.

Many people talk about needing a common language to bring together practitioners in transport and health. Technical language and a whole different flavour of acronym soup means that drawing the agenda together to work for common outcomes has been challenging at best and often seen as just too difficult to attempt. However, as someone recently pointed out, ‘we have a common language, it’s called plain English’. And, for me, they’ve hit the nail right on the head. If we can make the case for the co-benefits of transport and health in a clear, and non-technical way, then perhaps we can sell the vision of cities where active and public transport work together to improve health outcomes.

TfL’s Healthy Streets approach does just that. It makes the case for ensuring that streets are healthy places, using 10 simple indicators, see below. From ease of crossing to clean air and places to sit and rest, the indicators are simple and accessible to those of any background. And none of these indicators are controversial, who wouldn’t want a street that is quiet, feels safe and has things to see and do? And if there are health benefits in the process then great!

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We need political vision. Prioritisation of health in transport is picking up pace in London with the backing of a Mayor who has shown leadership and commitment to these issues and is driving forward the Healthy Streets approach. Urban transport authorities more widely have the potential to drive forward the health and transport agenda however they will need the powers and funding to deliver on this.

On evidence, there is a wealth of evidence making the case that transport can improve health. We’ve collected some of that on our web hub for health and transport. In addition, there are tools available which can be used to make the economic case for investment in active travel, including the HEAT tool (Health Economic Assessment Tool).

Here at the Urban Transport Group, we believe that transport can, and should, be working to deliver health outcomes. As such, we’ve committed to continue work on this agenda, starting out by updating and refreshing our web hub and promoting TfL’s Healthy Streets approach beyond London. If you’d like to find out more check out our resources and / or get in touch, we need to continue these conversations and keep this on the agenda!

2016 in transport

2016 has been a rollercoaster year in politics, entertainment and sports. We’ve had a referendum, a change of government, and a US election, to name just a few things. For me, this has been my first year at UTG (I joined in May), I’ve learned so much and lots of interesting things have been going on. So, I’m going to try and wrap up the big things that have happened in transport into this post.

Internally, it’s been a big year at UTG. In January 2016, Transport for London became full members, and what had been pteg became the Urban Transport Group. And since then we’ve gone from strength to strength, drawing in new policy areas such as taxis and private hire vehicles, and tackling big questions, like the value of emerging data for transport and the role of transport in delivering inclusive growth.

The Buses Bill

The Buses Bill has been a big theme in transport this year, with its passage through the House of Lords, and looks set to move into the House of Commons next year. The Buses Bill will make it easier for local transport authorities to franchise networks of buses, allowing bus services to be provided as they are in London elsewhere. This will deliver improvements for passengers and integration of ticketing. You can find out more about our work on the Buses Bill here including our Bus Services Bill FAQs.

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Data

Big data, open data, transport data, it’s all in vogue! On my second day at UTG we held a workshop with the Future Cities Catapult to discuss emerging data and transport, to try and tease out the opportunities and challenges around maximising the potential of transport data. Following this, we produced our ‘Getting Smart on Data’ report, which offers some recommendations of ways to overcome some of these challenges and barriers in order to utilise the wealth of emerging data.

Air Quality

Air quality has been making headlines this year, particularly as the health implications of NOx and particulate emissions become ever more apparent. Some European cities have been making bold statement to address air pollution, with Paris banning cars and making public transport free to use during high pollution events. Sadiq Khan has made significant promises to tackle air pollution in London, including doubling funding to tackle the problem and Clean Air Zones are being imposed on a number of English cities, so this issue looks likely to remain at the top of transport agendas for some time to come.

Inclusive growth

Theresa May has made it clear that her government intends to deliver inclusive growth, including through the establishment of the Inclusive Growth Economy Unit in October 2016. Inclusive Growth has been on the agenda for other organisations, with the RSA opening the Inclusive Growth Commission. Inclusivity and transport is an area that UTG have been exploring for a long time, including examining the role for transport in accessing employment, the importance of transport for young people and the role transport plays in economic development. Check out our response to the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission to find out more.

Party conferences

As UTG, we attend both the Labour and Conservative party conferences. This year, we asked people to share their priorities for transport in cities, and you can read these blog posts to find out more about what came up at Labour and the Conservatives. There were many common themes across both conferences, with people asking for better cycling infrastructure, improved public transport and raising concerns about air quality, amongst many others.

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What’s clear is that there are many different challenges facing the transport system, but transport also offers wider social and economic opportunities. Let’s see what 2017 has to offer.

Conservative Party Conference – What’s your number one priority for improving transport in cities?

This week it was the turn of the Tory Party conference to share their transport priorities with us on our board. And participants took up the challenge, sharing a range of ideas for improving cities. For an overview of our work on the directions for transport policy in cities, check out Policy Futures. Let’s take a look at some of the suggestions, and our work in these areas, in more detail.

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You may, or may not, be surprised to find that there were a lot of similarities between the transport priorities raised at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences. Buses were a recurring theme, and seem to bridge the political divide. You can find more in our Bus Policy briefing, where we argue the importance of buses to public transport.

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Increased oversight of bus routes and ticketting was highlighed as a priroriy for improving cities transport, and the forthcoming Buses Bill will devolve more powers to city regions. You can find out more about this in our Buses Bill FAQ.

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Integration of bus routes is something else that was raised as a priority for city transport, something which the Buses Bill should also help to address.

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Congestion was raised as a challenge for urban transport. At UTG, we argue that greater priority for buses is a key strategy for reducing congestion in cities, and the Case for Bus Priority can be found here. You can also find lots more work on the value of buses to our city regions here.

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Electric Vehicle Charging was a point that came up at the Conservative Party conference, and you can find our work on transport sustainability here.

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Lots of people across both conferences highlighted cycling as their number one priority for improving urban transport. Our Cycling Hub shares our work on this area, as well as providing direction to other organisations who are delivering evidence on the case for cycling investment.

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Finally, we were thrown a bit of a curve ball, with the question of ‘Where are the canoes and kayaks”? This isn’t something that we’ve looked at, but it did spark a debate in the office about the possibilities of kayaking for commuting in Leeds!

Hopefully, for those of you who shared your transport priorities, across both conferences, this is a useful way of finding out more about our work on these areas.