Asking the right questions is the key to getting the right answers. But new questions require a new way of looking at problems. Bridget Doran does that in a white paper on transport equity. She argues that investment in equity will have payoffs for the climate as well as people.
“It is remarkable that in 2023 we do not measure the return on investment in transport by asking who is, and who is not, accessing what they need. However, we are beginning to understand that different people have different needs of transport. An equitable approach is about continuing to learn about who has what needs, and working to meet them.”
New ways to measure progress
Councils spend a lot of money on maintaining streets. Asset management priorities rarely consider who benefits from quality infrastructure. For example, more people who use wheelchairs and mobility devices live in poorer communities. So fixing footpaths in these areas is a good investment in equity. A focused accessibility audit can identify where people can and cannot go depending on their abilities.
Asking people where they are and are not going at a local level is essential. In this way councils can identify priorities for upgraded road crossings and other street improvements. Transport planners use crash data to justify infrastructure investment. Now they should use access data to prioritise investment in equity.
“Strong policy matters. If investment in equity is not made for good reason, it can be delayed, removed or watered-down for political reasons or when other objectives are introduced with stronger rationale.”
Image from the A Just Now white paper.
Summary of recommendations
A strong policy vision with equitable participation made an explicit goal of investment is a key recommendation. This is required nationally, regionally and at a local level.
Promoting the needs of people with most to gain from investment, and working to promote low-carbon means of access, will result in the most tangible change. “We have to challenge ourselves to want it.” Image from A Just Now white paper.
The title of the white paper is A Just Now: Equity and transport in a changing climate.
Transport innovation: more of the same?
There’s a long gap between new ideas in transportation and when passengers get to experience them. And there are lots of stakeholders within transport systems. Regulators, designers, manufacturers, policy-makers, local and state governments and let’s not forget the travelling public. With so many stakeholders and things to think about, accessibility and inclusion could get missed. So will transport innovation be more of the same?
Apart from interstate trains and buses, public transportation systems are the responsibility of each state and territory. This poses issues of inconsistency, particularly in relation to accessibility. The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) recommends greater coordination and national goals for future transport systems. It’s good to see accessibility and inclusion in the mix.
Different stakeholders want different things
- Regulators want to see reduced emissions and congestion, increased efficiency, and greater accessibility and social equity.
- Transport providers want greater efficiency, capacity and market share.
- Passengers was increased usefulness, accessibility, inclusivity, comfort, convenience and safety. Then they want reduced price.
Innovation is in the eye of the beholder. The drivers for innovation were identified as, social and environmental, what passengers want, resource constraints, regulatory gaps and political imperatives.
The AHURI research reviews international practice in the context of Australian conditions. Policy discussion in Australia has not moved on from practices set in the late 1990s. Innovation is about emerging modes of transport. These include trying to lessen car dependency by improving public transport, and integrating transport nodes with activity centres.
The research paper goes on to discuss policy development options, issues for institutions, policy gaps and opportunities, and the role of the state in transport innovation.
The research questions
Four research questions guided the approach:
1. How are large-scale processes of technological, economic, social and environmental change affecting travel patterns and transport systems in Australian cities?
2. What strategic approaches to configuring infrastructure, technology, regulation and design are Australian metropolitan transport programs and policies adopting?
3. How do Australian metropolitan transport programs and policies compare to relevant international examples in terms of strategic approaches to technological, economic, social and environmental changes?
4. What forward positions should Australian metropolitan transport programs and policies consider in response to drivers of major transport system change and what further research is needed to inform this positioning?