Transport is much more than cars and roads

Sophie Howe makes the case for a transport transformation.

Sophie Howe is Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

Transportation and technology are developing at high speed, revolutionising not only how we travel but the ways in which we live and work in the future.

In less than three years you could be purchasing a self-driving car or using on-demand travel options from car-sharing to bicycles. We could also see the arrival of the first hyperloop in the UK; which promises a journey from London to Scotland in 45 minutes.

Last week, Hyundai and Volkswagen announced the roll out of their first self-drive cars by 2021, driverless lorries are being trialled in the UK this year and the Netherlands is currently exploring a “Netflix for transportation” – a system which would allow people to access a variety of transport from public transport and bicycles.

How can this transport transformation change the way we travel, work and live here in Wales? We know that over 3 million people in Wales rely on the country’s transport infrastructure daily, and yet our roads are gridlocked, with harmful impacts for our health and well-being, as well as our environment. Quite simply, we cannot afford to address 21st century transport issues with outmoded 20th century solutions.

Cities across the globe who are being proactive in investing in low-carbon, public and automated transportation are already reaping the rewards, such as improved productivity of employees with faster, easier journeys and greater mobility, and improved air quality for local residents.

This is exactly what they did in Portland Oregon with the development of their metro system. I was fortunate enough to see this work on a trip arranged by the American State Department last year and was pleased to host a Skype meeting recently with TriMet in Portland and the new Chief Executive of Transport for Wales and his team to facilitate learning and an exchange of ideas.

And it’s not just an economic no-brainer for us to get ahead of the game here in Wales, but a statutory obligation under the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

By setting out clearly the requirements on public bodies to consider the social, environmental, economic and cultural well-being of Wales in their decision-making process, as well as the aspirations contained within the national well-being goals, the Well-being of Future Generations Act drives the aspiration that we should be working towards the creation of a low-carbon transport strategy.

We have some significant opportunities with the work on the new rail franchise and metro to use these major infrastructure projects to show how we can move to low carbon transport, reuse resources during construction, employ local people and work with local communities to ensure that the investment also supports local initiatives such as new cycle tracks, places for nature and using renewable and existing infrastructure associated with the scheme for community facilities.

My office has also recently been working with Welsh Government on revising their Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance (WelTAG 2017), which encourages transport planners to take a different approach to coming up with long-term solutions that contributes to all four aspects of well-being. This is a huge and exciting shift that moves away from traditional ways of working.

The new guidance includes my “Future Generations Framework”, which has been developed in partnership with others as a framework for thinking; to help public services and organisations make better decisions and design projects that are future fit.

The framework is engineered to help decision makers consider the long-term and prevention, encourages integration, collaboration and involvement, in order to develop projects which are more holistic and are proactively taking us towards a low-carbon, clean energy, resilient and more equal society, providing secure and well-paid jobs, and building well-connected, resilient communities for everyone.

Our Framework is ‘work in progress’ – we have published the current version, but we are keen to hear from people whether it’s useful and whether it needs to change to make it even more so!

Transport is about so much more than cars and roads; it’s the hours and location of where we work, it’s how we get the kids to school, whether we can make it to that Monday night spin class, whether we choose a quick and easy ready meal or make the longer trip to the shops to pick up something healthier (and probably cheaper). It was recently reported that 20% of young unemployed people are unable to get to job interviews because they cannot afford public transport, or don’t have access to it – highlighting that transport and social mobility are inherently linked.

Transport affects the way we plan our lives and should be our route to healthier, happier, more sustainable choices, not a barrier that prevents us from achieving this. Revolutionising transport in Wales would improve all seven of Wales’ national well-being goals; with cycling, getting the bus and active travel contributing to a healthier, more resilient Wales, and more accessible transport allowing for greater equality of access for communities across Wales, as well as greater visibility and use of the Welsh language throughout our public transport.

Getting this right is not rocket-science but it does require us to be bold, brave and think more innovatively about how to develop projects and infrastructure fit for the future. The Well-being of Future Generations Act gives us all permission to do this, and we want to support Public Bodies to make this the reality in Wales.

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

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