Tackling transport challenges, together

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People will always need to travel to places. So, there is a strong consensus around the need for high quality, integrated urban public transport networks that can support the greener, healthier and more prosperous city regions that we want to see. But the big question is how to sustain a public transport offer when passenger numbers are falling, congestion is rising and resources continue to reduce?

Cooperating in partnerships, with operators and local authorities, and working closely with other regions as the Urban Transport Group, to exchange intelligence and expertise, is one of the ways we can try to achieve more with less. But we need to recognise that responding to the challenges facing us isn’t a case of one size fits all. On the contrary, to stimulate growth, more than ever we now need to understand local markets, and their demands and needs, in order to meet them.

Investment is critical: investment in research into public travel patterns and preferences; investment in attractive infrastructure; and investment in people and embracing diversity, to sustain a strong industry workforce that strengthens the transport skill and knowledge base to generate new ideas and take a fresh approach.

Collective insight and analysis can help policy makers and providers offer modes of transport that are competitive with, or even better than, the alternative. Everyone’s familiar with the climate rhetoric, but more needs to be done to make the grass look greener if travel behaviour is to change. It’s about increasing awareness around the impact an individual’s travel choice has on the whole community, and the benefits an efficient and integrated public transport network can bring to all – by reducing congestion on roads, for bus users and car drivers, whilst contributing towards cleaner air and a healthier community.

Research shows that using public transport helps to integrate physical activity into a daily routine, because most walk or cycle to and from bus, tram or train stops. This is an easy way to try and achieve the British Heart Foundation’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. People who travel by bus, tram or train are ‘happier’ too, according to a study from the University of East Anglia – simply because they have more time for mindfulness, to relax and to concentrate on themselves.

Among other factors, we’re working against a rise in car ownership, a shift in people’s expectations for more bespoke and on demand services, fare prices, increased online shopping, different work patterns and reduced investment. All of this impacts on public transport. Given this environment, it’s vital that transport leaders influence and shape what’s in their backyard and maximise every opportunity to affect change. South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) is supporting Sheffield City Region’s Mayoral Combined Authority in a bid for the Transforming Cities Fund, combining public transport improvements with a wider development and growth plan. Part of this would see investment in a cleaner fleet of buses. They’ll run on the most polluted corridors around the region, connecting people to employment and education, whilst contributing to air quality and congestion issues. It’s a step in the right direction. As is our Active Travel campaign, encouraging people to make small changes to the way they travel to bring big benefits for themselves and their environment.

In times of less resources, the way ahead is to share them. Together we can tackle the challenges to transform public transport. Today, and for future generations.

Stephen Edwards is Executive Director at SYPTE and the new Chair of Urban Transport Group

Read Stephen’s biography here

Transport should be at the heart of new developments – and here’s how


What is transit oriented development?

You might not instantly recognise this American term, but if you’ve been to the new development north of London’s King’s Cross station, then you’ll know what one looks like. Although still not fully completed, this once unused industrial site represents a flagship transit oriented development – the principle of putting public transport front and centre in residential and commercial developments, with the aim of maximising access by public transport, encouraging walking and cycling, and minimising the need to own and use private cars. With its shops, restaurants, offices (Google is located here), public sector organisations (Camden Council has offices here) and excellent public realm – all located within striking distance of plentiful transport options such as rail, tube, buses and active travel infrastructure like cycle superhighways, it certainly fits the bill.

Transit oriented development is not only found in large world cities. Northstowe, in Cambridgeshire, is part of the NHS Healthy New Towns programme, which aims to encourage active lifestyles and incorporate healthcare facilities into new town developments. Good public transport options are available here via the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway and the nearby Cambridge North Railway Station. And in West Yorkshire, a new railway station at Kirkstall Forge outside of Leeds, is part of a new transit oriented development which, on completion, will provide over 1,000 new homes, 300,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail, leisure and community facilities, including a school – all just a six minute ride train journey from the city centre.

Our new report – The place to be: How transit oriented development can support good growth in the city regions – looks at how ‘Transit oriented development’ can help meet housing demand and reduce car-based urban sprawl, and provides examples like these, and many more.

For instance, Vauban in Freiburg, Germany, is a transit oriented development which prioritises walking and cycling by having low speed limits. The area is served by a high frequency tram and all homes are within 400 meters of a tram stop. This integration of sustainable transport means that car ownership is low, at 150 cars per 1,000 residents, compared to 270 for Freiburg as a whole.

So, integrating public transport into new developments, along with providing urban realm that encourages walking and cycling, can help us move away from a car based sprawl approach to delivering new housing, one which locks residents into car-based lifestyles and exacerbates the challenges of congestion and poor air quality in our cities. We’ve identified seven key success factors for transit oriented development schemes in our new report, including: integration of public transport, support for walking and cycling and discouraging car ownership and use, high density development on brownfield sites, integration of services and the involvement of the public sector. You can see these in our new infographic below (which can be downloaded here).

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But how exactly do we go about achieving such developments, and overcome some of the barriers?

Our members – city region transport authorities – have an important role to play, as they are often some of the biggest land and property owners in the cities they serve. In order for them to make transit oriented developments happen, they need:

  • a national planning framework that favours transit oriented development rather than car-based low density sprawl
  • a national funding framework with more options for ensuring that value uplift from new developments can be used to improve transport connectivity – like we have seen with Crossrail in London and in places like San Francisco’s Bay Area. In particular, we need a joint programme of work between city regions and national Government to examine the issues, and develop the options, on land value capture mechanisms.
  • more influence over land held by agencies of national Government which would be prime sites for transit oriented development schemes. We’d like city region authorities in England to have the same veto powers over Network Rail land sales that the Scottish Government currently enjoys.
  • more devolution of powers over stations where a city region transport authority has the ambition and capacity to take on those responsibilities.
  • measures to improve the planning capacity of local authorities in order to respond effectively, rapidly and imaginatively to opportunities for high quality transit oriented development.

As our Chair Tobyn Hughes notes, transit oriented developments are “an idea whose time has truly come”… but if we are to embark on a new era of transit oriented developments, and realise the benefits they can bring, we must overcome these obstacles. We hope that by following these recommendations, we can usher in this new era.

Clare Linton is Researcher at Urban Transport Group

(Picture top: R~P~M via Flickr)

Six things I learned on a works outing to Hitachi’s Train Building Factory in County Durham

1.We live in a world of mysterious blank big sheds inside which much of the economy happens. So good on Hitachi on being so open to visitors in letting people like us have a look at what goes on in their factory and to see some new trains being born. People love to see what goes behind the scenes and there is lots of scope for more of the transport industry to do more of it – Hitachi certainty do as another group was ready to do a tour as we left. And very high tech the trains are too (currently the factory is churning out the new IEP high speed trains for the East Coast Main Line and electric trains for the Scottish central belt) loaded with sensors and threaded through with kilometres of cabling.

2. I like a new train, I like it if it gets me there a bit quicker. It’s nice if it has a racy nose cone. But really what I’m interested in (and would swap a longer journey time for) is are the seats going to be comfortable and will I be able to move my elbows sufficiently to do a bit of work on it. Frustrating therefore how boring, uncomfortable and cramped most interiors for modern trains are – especially when gazillions are spent on their engineering aspects. Symptom of a railway run by engineers and financial engineers – and overseen by an absentee landlord at DfT. None of which is Hitachi’s doing as seat spec is down to the DfT and the franchisee. Word is IEP East Coast trains are going to have more comfortable seating given recent backlashes against ironing-board seats elsewhere. We shall see.

3. The factory employs a lot of people to put parts together and assemble and test the trains. They are also seeking to involve the local supply chain in supplying more of those parts (70% of parts in the IEP come from the UK they say). All good but the question remains how much of the clever parts of new trains could be procured from the UK in new UK trains (for now the body shells, with a fair amount of kit already built in, comes from Japan) and the traction packages, air conditioning, diesel power packs and universal access toilets are all imported. I’m in no way singling out Hitachi on this issue as it’s a Government specification issue. Roger Ford, in his informed sources, column has argued that there should be a minimum spec for high value components from the UK for the UK. The focus we currently have on train and bus building plants (and the outcry if they come under threat) needs to be balanced with attention to how they relate to the supply chain (particularly the advanced manufacturing end of the supply chain).

4. Hitachi are doing some close working with a nearby college to attract young people into the industry (though young peoples’ primary engineering aspirations are aerospace or Formula One not trains they say). You can never start too early therefore and thus they are working with primary schools to give kids some fun in a location they are unlikely to forget soon and to sow some seeds as to what their future might hold before they start to copy the views of their peers as to what’s for them and what is not.

5. How few people who build new public transport vehicles use public transport to get there. We got there on the Darlington to Bishop Auckland branch line (alighting at Heighington) with its less than high tech Pacer trains and hourly service. But at shift change at Hitachi there was a whirlwind of activity in the car park but none of the workforce joined us on the rather grim walk back to the station. There were a couple of bus stops on the road back as well (with shelters) but with no maps and no timetable information – the signage to the station was also poor. Efforts are being made to improve things (with a new earlier service to the station for the start of the early shift) however overall very reminiscent of the ignored and underwhelming public transport access to the Optare bus building factory east of Leeds – which everyone also drives to.

6. The Bishop Auckland branch line may feel like a backwater today but part of it is the route of the original Stockton and Darlington railway. You can define what was the first railway in a lot of ways. But this was the world’s first public railway which used steam locomotives for freight alongside a horse drawn (at first) passenger service. A boarded up pub next to Heighington station can claim to be the oldest extant station building at a working railway station in the world. It’s also where George Stephenson’s Locomotion Number One took to the rails for the first time. And if that wasn’t enough it’s also home to one of the oldest working signal boxes in the country. With the railway museum at Darlington North Road and the NRM base at Shildon further down the line here’s hoping even more can be made of this railway’s historical interest and credentials in the run up to 2025 (the bicentennial of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington).

Jonathan Bray