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24/01/2019

Joined-up planning is the key to better journeys

The infrastructure that supports physical journeys needs to undergo a revolution if the promises of seamless journeys supported by smart digital journey planning is to be realised, argues Darren Shirley

It is nearly 20 years since the Commission for Integrated Transport (CFIT) was created with a bold vision of joined-up transport planning and infrastructure. With journey planning now easier than ever, why are we waiting for physical interchanges to catch up?

The commission’s vision was intended as a boon for efficient and sustainable transport, wiping out at a stroke all those car journeys when you drive because you can’t work out how else to travel. In their place there would be integrated journeys across bus, train, bike, and taxi.

As new Campaign for Better Transport research makes clear, it hasn’t quite worked out that way yet. Since the commission’s day (it was abolished in 2010), technology has transformed the way we can plan our journeys. Out have gone the road atlas and the paper timetable and in has come real-time smartphone information and maps allowing each trip to be planned to make it as fast and convenient as possible.

“The virtual transport world has been revolutionised, but the physical world still looks much as it did”

But while the virtual transport world has been revolutionised, the physical world still looks much as it did. The few parkway train stations that have been built in recent years cannot disguise how few genuine interchanges exist. And even where bus and rail are co-located a seamless journey is unlikely to be easy. Not only will it be down to luck as to whether the two timetables coincide, but multimodal smart tickets remain rare.

Consider Luton. Nearly a quarter of a million people live in the Luton/ Dunstable/ Houghton Regis area and there is pressure for more growth. Local roads are among the most congested in the country. Outward connections are also challenging; Luton is only 18 miles from Milton Keynes – another growth hotspot – just half an hour in a car, or 50 minutes on the hourly bus or up to 90 minutes by train.

Just north of Luton, the M1 motorway and the Midland Mainline railway run adjacent to one another, providing a strategic opportunity to link national networks and local transport with a new passenger rail station with car parking and coach interchange, and a connection to local bus networks and the guided busway.

To make ‘mobility as a service’ real requires good interchanges. Our report recommends not just new funding, but reforms to the NPPF to explicitly set out the benefits of good modal interchanges. Sub-national transport bodies should be encouraged to think multi-modally, and new ways of bringing Highways England, Network Rail and local transport planners together are needed.

Darren Shirley is chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport

Photo | iStock

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