When small is mighty

There’s nothing like a big transport project to get hearts racing. Miles of track laid, tranches of trams ordered, lightening speeds to be achieved. And in recent times there’s been more than a few that promise to revolutionise our city regions. The Metrolink expansion continues to transform Greater Manchester, Birmingham New Street will soon look shiny and new, while HS2 and HS3 seem just around the corner.

While these schemes will be vital in securing economic growth and the rebalancing of the economy, it would be tempting to assume that much smaller-scale projects have little part to play. In fact, smaller schemes can deliver economic benefits comparable to the larger ones – at an average of £3.50 in benefits for every £1 of public investment.

And small schemes are intrinsic to improving our transport infrastructure, as a new report by pteg finds. That’s because they tend to share common characteristics.

Small schemes make the best use of local knowledge. A great example of this is Traffic Light Priority Scheme in West Yorkshire. This nifty project identified junction signals that could be re-timed in order to speed-up busses, leading to journey time savings of 15%.

Small schemes are responsive – easy to implement and can tackle swiftly changing situations. In South Yorkshire the JobConnectors programme created enhanced bus links to new employment sites. In an area of low car ownership this not only reduced staff turnover and improved recruitment but also lead to jump in bus patronage of 62%.

Small schemes are also easily targeted. This means they can grab quick wins and fix the most bothersome bottlenecks. In Greater Manchester the ‘Local Link’ initiatives allow you to book a ‘go anywhere’ bus service, which fills the gaps in local transport provision. This means people can reach work more easily, and in one area commuting by bus almost doubled.

With so many big projects in the pipeline let’s not forget about the value of small schemes – those almost imperceptible changes that make our cities tick and allow us to go about our daily lives.

Thomas Haines-Doran