London transport

Assembly 2014: Making transport systems sustainable

Large-scale changes are needed to make the UK transport system sustainable, but is it the network or the people who need to change?

At the ARCC Assembly session on Transport sustainability and resilience we learned that relatively minor weather damage to the railways can spread across the network. A small landslip on the west coast mainline from London to Glasgow led to 2500 minutes of delays up and down the line. More surprisingly, perhaps, a flooding incident south of Birmingham caused almost twice as many minutes of delay across much of southern England. The FUTURENET project is developing a model to predict the spread of these types of incidents and improve responses.

For events that are clearly large-scale from the outset, Transport for London have discovered that the most effective response can be a controlled shut down combined with comprehensive dissemination of information to travellers. This enables a quicker, safer clean-up and re-opening operation, which leads to less overall disruption. TfL are concerned that as the climate changes, today’s extremes will become tomorrows’ averages. Managing transport assets is a vital part of alleviating severe weather disruption, but TfL have learnt that more emphasis is needed on communication with travellers, especially for the smart-phone generation of instant information.

Communicating travel disruption is more difficult than you might think. The FUTURENET project has found that in a survey 2000 in London and Glasgow, 22% of car travellers ignore official warnings (Ryley and Zanni 2013, Journal of Transport Geography). Their travel decisions may well be influenced, to a lessor or greater extent, by the opinions of people they know, or their perceptions of those opinions. An analysis of survey data enables FUTURENET to create a forecast model of travel choices when there is extreme weather. However, the STEP-CHANGE project has found that illness, of the traveller or their contacts, is a major factor in traveller’s decisions and could take precedence over weather problems. To help people make more sustainable travel decisions, there maybe more work needed to understand incentives and deterring factors.

This may be especially true if substantial changes towards a low carbon user-friendly transport system are to be achieved. Visions 2030 animations show the current experience of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians along a typical UK street, and then possible future scenarios with alternative transport policies. In the example of deregulation as a major transport policy change, researchers from the STEP-CHANGE project found that social requirements were overlooked because political influence was so strong.

Improving the resilience of the UK transport network to current and future climate requires, as we move to a lower carbon society, large scale changes to the physical transport system. But communication around extreme weather disruption can also be improved. There are also opportunities for improvement to the quality of our travelling experience that may inspire us to embrace change.

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