Accessing attractions beyond the urban fringe…

Couple at Windermere station - credit golake travel

The Urban Transport Group is a supporter of Good Journey, an independent, non-profit organisation working to transform car-free travel to visitor attractions and venues in the UK. In this blog, Good Journey’s Director, Nat Taplin, explains how they’re changing the way people travel to attractions and beauty spots within easy reach of our cities.  

Around 25 years ago (can it really be that long?!) I lived in a shared house in Manchester. Whenever we popped into the city centre – for a museum, a meal or a show – we automatically went by bus. It was a no-brainer. But when we headed out-of-town for a picnic at Dunham Massey Park, we would all pile into a camper van. For a variety of reasons, the countryside and the car are firmly intertwined in the British psyche.

In big cities most people arrive at visitor attractions and venues by train, bus, tram, bike and foot. We know it’ll save us the hassle of queueing and parking. But as soon as we venture beyond the urban fringe, to country houses and honeypot villages, most of us default to the car. Often, it’s just lack of information and an assumption that a visit to countryside means getting in the car.

Underlying this is a diffuse anxiety about abandoning the cocoon of the car. Where do we catch the bus? Will it turn up? Where do we get off? What if we get stranded? These fears are reinforced by subliminal messaging that the car is the normal (or even the only) way to reach many attractions. On attraction websites, you see words like ‘infrequent’ and ‘difficult’ used to describe public transport, while the car is ‘easy’ and ‘close’. Bus visitors are often dropped at the side of a busy main road to walk, while drivers are greeted with capacious car parks right by the entrance.

Given all this, it is little surprise that, outside cities, nine out of 10 visitors arrive by car. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A survey of National Trust visitors showed that 48% were open to visiting car-free. And some pioneering visitor attractions have realised that they can widen their audience, reduce their environmental impact and increase their income by welcoming car-free visitors (after all, one in four of us don’t own a car).

For example, Harewood House near Leeds, offers an impressive 50% discount for visitors showing a bus ticket. Smart buses run direct from Leeds and Harrogate, every 15 minutes (every 30 minutes even on Sundays). Visitors are met at the gate by a free shuttlebus to take them up the drive to the house.

Family on Beach Bus, Lepe, New Forest National Park

Good Journey is creating a UK-wide network of visitor attractions and venues which welcome and reward car-free visitors – with excellent travel information and discounts for arriving by train, bus or bike. Good Journey provides step-by-step travel information for participating attractions – including journey planners for bus and train times, and maps showing the walking route from bus stop to front door – like this. Participating attractions are recognised with the Good Journey mark – the symbol that car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount.

We have already been joined by leading attractions including Blenheim Palace, Cadbury World and Chester Zoo as well as RHS, National Trust and RSPB sites. And we look forward to working with the Urban Transport Group and its members to change the way people travel when venturing beyond the urban fringe.

Some Good Journey attractions within easy reach of cities are:

Chester Zoo
Waddesdon Manor
Beamish Museum
Castle Howard
Harewood House
RHS Harlow Carr
Cadbury World
National Botanic Garden of Wales
Blenheim Palace

Find out more about Good Journey – and sign-up for a free newsletter and eBook Great Scenic Rail and Bus Journeys of Britain at www.goodjourney.org.uk

My night at NEF – CAVs, data, carbon and the future of transport

Took part in a Chatham House roundtable at the New Economics Foundation last night which, mostly ended up exploring the fault lines between a vision of the future of transport centered on moving as rapidly as possible to the vast majority of journeys being made by electric, shared and autonomous cars – and those who thought that vision was either unachievable or highly undesirable, or both.

It made me think this (or in some cases steal the thoughts of others)…

  1. There is a big gulf between those who see transport from a tech / venture capital perspective and those whose background is in wider urban and transport policy. Indeed they are very rarely in the same rooms together. The former look at transport from the outside and they see one vehicle dominates – the car. So that’s where the heroic engineering and renumerative opportunity lies for transforming transportation – and at a global scale. With that clear objective set then everyithing else is about cracking any problems that lie in the way to the goal of fixing the car (ie making it electric and autonomous). And given the amount of money at stake, their faith in technology and their own abilities – they are confident that all problems can, should and will be cracked. The people from a wider urban and transport policy perspective see cities and their transport network as complex systems of which the car is one element – an element which is problematic per se. So you don’t start with the car as the be all and the end all of transport policy because that clearly makes no sense. The global nature of the ambitions of the tech / venture capitalists also makes the gulf even wider as what might work on the empty straight roads of 1950s US suburbia might struggle with being the answer to the future of transport on the constricted road network of European cities with their roots in the 1500s. However is there somewhere within this zone of mutual incomprehension for a space for thinking about how tech could fit with where the reality of the transport needs of denser older major cities where space for any kind of road vehicle is becoming steadily more constrained and where there is a wider vision for healthier streets?
  2. Is the above a first world problem in that it would be easier to establish a whole new mobility system based on the tech / venture capitalists view that the future is about electric, shared, autonomous cars in newer, or even new, cities in developing countries – where city layout, politics and regulation could be more receptive?
  3. In the Eighties there was a brain drain into a deregulated financial sector which ultimately gave us the crash and the strange and frightening world we now live in. Is there now an equivalent brain drain into a tech sector which was never regulated in the first place? And are we living with the consequences of that right now from fake news, and election meddling to lack of control over our personal data and the rise of unregulated internet monopolies? If so what do we do about it? In Estonia the Government uses secure technology to hold citizen’s personal data for them in a way that makes public services easier to use and cheaper to provide. In London there’s talk of cities establishing something that sounds similar – city data trusts. Could these approaches be part of the answer? Or at least part of a more urgent debate?
  4. The carbon footprint of the energy sector is transforming for the better with amazing rapidity in the UK but the same is not true for transport. Will the pressure increase for this to change? At the same time (and there’s a lot of fog of war here) the shift to electric vehicles seems to be picking up pace dragging even the more reluctant elements of the automobile sector with it. Will that lead to panic by Government over loss of fuel duty revenues and could that lead them to react by seeking to slow the shift?
  5. One more on CAVs. One of the big emerging obstacles to full CAVs that the techies / venture capitalists will need to crack if their dream is to be realised is attitudinal. As in just because people could do something that technology allows them to do  – they might not actually want to do it. So, for example, if CAVs need to be shared (given that if everyone had their own nobody would be able to move very far in them without being stuck in a traffic jam) then how do you get round the fact that if there’s one thing that people hate its being in a small space (like a lift) with strangers (even if its only for a minute). Are people really going to want to make the beloved lift experience into their day to day travel experience?

Jonathan Bray