The latest West of England transport report 'leaked' to the local media' includes some, though not sufficient, good ideas on public transport, parking cost and provision in the most built up places, walking and cycling and - up to a point - new transport technologies, as well as a sizeable investment figure of £8.9 billion. The figure is the sort of size needed to establish a much more sustainable transport system in Bristol and the surrounding area but unfortunately significant parts of the plans assessed in the report would take us away from what we can sustain economically, socially and environmentally.
An underground network for Bristol is technically difficult but possible, though prohibitively expensive, if the scale involved is large. In any case it doesn't address the cause of our transport unsustainability: transport intensive lifestyles. A major civil engineering project would have massive opportunity costs. Money spent on a large scale underground would be much better spent elsewhere eg subsidising bus and train fares. Large cost increases and delays in underground completion are quite likely - just look at the history of major building projects. If we can't get an Arena built to time and cost in Bristol how can we get an underground network? There is no pure technofix for our transport problems - we need proper technology assessment and a whole range of social, political, economic and technical changes to get to sustainable transport.
Taken overall the latest West of England transport report show that key features of conventional 20th century transport thinking is still with very much us. Little wonder that transport problems like congestion and air pollution persist.
To properly address transport problems local and central government need to be working together with local people: first and foremost to reduce the need and demand for all transport to begin with, such as through the provision of local services, facilities and jobs. The priorities then should be:
- shifting from high impact means of transport such as cars and lorries to lower impact means such as light rail, trams, walking and cycling - transferring parts of the existing transport infrastructure to more sustainable methods
- reducing the impact severity of all the most polluting means of travel in all the most polluted places, tackling diesel fuelled vehicles especially - and implementing clean air zones which restrict and charge the most polluting vehicles from entry (reinvesting the money raised into public transport, walking and cycling)
- harmonising planning policies and practices with sustainable transport so that one doesn't contradict the other as it so often does
- establishing a truly strategic, integrated approach across the West Country area
- bringing back the public service ethos of public transport
- making the price of methods of travel fairly reflect their actual total costs (buses, trains, trams should be made a lower cost option relative to cars and lorries, in part using money raised from clean air zone charging - plus parking revenue)
A lot of the above is developed in the Good Transport Plan for Bristol.
Decision makers need to get up to date. They need to make the required connections across a range of economic, planning, transport, health, environmental and other policy areas. We need to get a coordinated, coherent fully 21st century response to problems both planned and implemented.