The way we have come to think about transport over the last 50 years now appears highly illogical. That logic failure is from the financial, environmental, social and post-Covid perspectives. Perhaps now is a good time to step back and reconsider.
Certainly, the government seems to think so with the launch earlier this year of Bus Back Better and the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail strategies. Both of these show the direction of travel (sic) but are perhaps light of the detail of what decisions might mean.
Rural Techs own research amongst inhabitants and businesses earlier this year also threw up some logical oddities worth a little consideration.
Financial Logic Failure
The rural economy is car-centric. 55% of the 392 inhabitants surveyed used their car daily. The sample included all age groups including those who had retired. For those working 5 days a week 86% took their car.
The logic question is why do so many people invest so much money in an asset that they drive from A to B and then B to A and leave parked for much of the time. With the move from car ownership to car leasing, which now accounts for 80-90% of new cars bought, some would argue it is only a rented asset. This means they’re not affected by the depreciation and its limited use protects their agreed mileage limits. But does it? Is it really worth it financially for the ‘time saved’?
Environmental Logic Failure
Respondents from 51 businesses, skewed to £1M+ turnover companies, estimated that 79% of their workforce travelled by car to work. Yet for 42% of businesses there was very or reasonable access to public transport.
The logic question is if we are connected to a public transport system, why is it not used? Much of the South East is connected by rail and bus networks as are many cities, here commuting by public transport is almost a given. Given 26 different options on working hours amongst the respondents, the inflexibility is not from the employers. Is it more to do with frequency and certainty of transport services?
Social Logic Failure
In those same businesses, only 3.3% of the workforce travelled by bus. Does our insistence on individual travel and status of car usage actually prevent public transport providing more services to more destinations because it’s economically unviable?
When businesses were based on size and larger industrial estates, getting the bus was a shared social means of transport to get there. People knew when the last bus home was for their night out from the local town. Work and leisure are both social shared activities for mutual benefit, why has transport become markedly less so?
Post-Covid many expect significantly different working practices with the reduction of necessary attendance. Not so the business survey, where 60% did not believe there would be an increase in working from home. This is for two reasons. Firstly, there are larger numbers of place-based businesses in rural areas; a manufacturing production line needs to be manned as does a tourist attraction. Secondly, the rural economy already has high proportions of people working from home- pre-Covid 30%+.
What it may need to cope with are those who were urban commuters, who now have more freedom and have moved further out in the expectation of fewer days in the office. Will our current design of transport systems cope with this change?
To be effective strategies need to be logical. For transport, our current behaviours are illogical from a number of perspectives. For success we need the individual to have the flexibility to choose solutions that balance:
- their need to the wider social opportunities of that choice;
- the true financial costs versus perceptions and status; and
- the new environmental and Covid challenges that change choices.