Smart cities and integrated transport

... time for planning to step up to the challenge?

Is planning policy bold enough when it comes to integrated transport? A key component of future (smart) cities will be the evolution towards “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS), whereby people purchase a journey by whichever mode is most efficient, rather than relying on private vehicles for the majority of journeys. Technology has a role to play in this evolution, but so too does forward-focused physical infrastructure. Both, however, will need the engagement of national and local planning policy.  

A new report “Integrated Transport: A New Generation of Interchanges” broadly grapples with the planning policy changes such a shift will demand. The report, commissioned by the Foundation for Integrated Transport (FIT) and published by the Campaign for Protect Better Transport begins with an ambitious goal: transport networks that are efficient, affordable accessible and comprehensive. It goes on to contrast this with the current system, which suffers from poorly integrated public transport services. The main cause for is identified as a fragmented decision making system, whereby the operation, investment and planning of different public transport modes are conducted in isolation. This leads to missed opportunities and makes the resulting networks expensive, while failing to fully connect communities or provide adequate links between the different modes of public transport. The upshot is that door-to-door public transport journeys more difficult and forces a greater reliance on private cars. The network is also far from ready for the smart future.

More positively, when interchanges are planned for, they can help tackle the transport impacts of development, acting as hubs around which development can take place and reduce local transport and environmental impacts of new housing. It can also provide the basis for a digitally-integrated transport system.

This is where national planning has a role to play. The report calls for changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to include more detailed guidance on planning and locating interchanges. The NPPF should also be more explicit in setting out the benefits of good modal interchanges, by making clear that transport interchanges can bring improved choice, contribute to reduced use of private cars, thus addressing issues including road congestion, air quality and carbon emissions and assist with links between cities to small towns and rural environments. The report also calls for support in the NPPF for specific guidance on the preparation of local plans, transport assessment and transport evidence base, highlighting the importance of interchanges and their potential in delivering more sustainable development.

The report also calls for changes to the relevant National Policy Statement (NPS). In particular, the NPS on National Networks should be amended to include passenger transport interchanges and offer policies to:

  • Maximise the effective use of existing transport infrastructure particularly on busy travel corridors around large urban areas; and
  • Facilitate increased transport choice for the travelling public including more door to door journeys involving more than one mode of transport.

Given that planning for public transport - especially ambitious projects such as integrating digital or smart technologies - needs to take place on a macro as well as a local level, it makes sense as an issue to be dealt with in the NPPF and other national policy documents. However, the degree to which such policies gain traction on the ground remains more of a political than planning question.

Posted on: 21/11/2018

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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