Visionaries article for A to B magazine
by Anna Semlyen

27 July 2000

How will we get from A to B in the future?

Official forecasts for 1996-2016 are of up to 51% more car traffic. This is because of a 4 million population increase, more multi-car households, increasing mileage per car and more dispersed activities. The mass and massive denial about the cost and irreversible damage that so much driving does will still prevail. By 2030 the effects of climate change will be clear to everyone, but by then it will be too late to reverse it. In fact, it may already be too late now!

Is the future so bleak?

Yes it is, unless more people are willing to ask now whether they really need to get from A to B at all. People must travel less, shorten their journeys or eliminate them by deliberately cutting their personal car use. This involves choosing the nearest alternatives, more walking and cycling, home production, linking trips and not being so greedy for money or status. Other methods include using delivery, public transport, car sharing, car clubs and so on. Widespread teleworking, for instance, has the potential to reduce peak hour traffic by 35%. Minimising cross-commuting is a another good example, so that person A and person B don't both cross town to do similar jobs, passing each other twice a day in their cars.

So, staying still and engaging in local activities has to become trendy. As does minimising the damage done when driving. Examples are going at slower speeds, using smaller and lighter vehicles with cleaner fuels and better energy-efficiency. Others are careful route planning, considerate parking and switching off a modern ignition engine when still for 20 seconds or more.

So what's your solution?

If non-essential car use is seen as an addiction to excessive mobility, then traffic reduction education, similar to health education, but much better funded, should have a greatly enhanced role. At least, that's what I've focussed on, given that road pricing is still at least 5 years off in my locality of York. Teaching people about travel blending really should be cost-effective relative to the massive subsidy many firms give staff in free parking (worth 770 a year in central Leeds) and would also provide jobs. Sadly, my TravelWise officer has an almost zero budget even though 10m of capital schemes were recently announced by the Council!

Building more roads or parking will not get us out of this mess. Traffic reduction is the only solution and most of that reduction will have to be by individuals choosing to travel shorter distances, using green modes and rejecting fossil-fuelled cars.

Could it work?

Partially. I only expect to limit the damage caused by driving and not get rid of cars altogether. Car advertising should definitely be severely curtailed - in the way that cigarette ads are limited. I hope that traffic reduction books like my 'Cutting Your Car Use' or, in the US, Katie Alvord's 'Divorce Your Car!' will be handed out with car parking permits (possibly paid for by firms or by adding a supplement to the permit charge).

Happiness isn't something we have to get in a car to find. Unfortunately, the environment in which many people live is unpleasantly dominated by cars, noise, pollution and danger. Housing and neighbourhoods have to be nicer places, with all the essential facilities, so you won't need to escape. Do you know the people on your street and are your activities enhancing your community?

What's the rail solution?

A National Strategic Timetable - a revised catalogue of the railways - would do a lot of good. Swiss people rate it as the best feature of their rail system! This is where trains run at regular clockface times, have symmetry in both directions, identical running times both ways and numerous hubs with regular connections. It would be much more understandable, reduce 'hassle', increase reliability, be easier to market and raise effective capacity. Regular services could generate an extra 30m revenue and raise single-leg passenger trips by 10m a year even within current resources (900m is the total UK rail industry value per year). All that even before its assistance in channelling investment to the real pinch points in the timetable - rather than the London-centric capital schemes we see now. But, at present only around 70% of the train operating companies are convinced of the benefits of regular interval timetables.

Who could implement such perfectly timed rail services?

The Strategic Rail Authority. It would need to have a vision which informed its decisions regarding pathing priorities. I suggest a rail user hierarchy with regular interval passenger services always ahead of irregular services and freight or special trains. The Hierarchy would be similar to those some Local Transport Plans have for road users.

Please define your ideal Transport Hierarchy

A hierarchy helps planners decide who has priority when the interests of users of the various different transport modes conflict. Mine is:

Pedestrians & wheelchair users
Mobility impaired cyclists
Pedal cyclists & human powered vehicles including electric bikes
Public transport users (bus, rail, coach, tram & taxis)
People with mobility problems using motorised modes
Zero emission motor vehicles
Mopeds and scooters
Commercial/business users
Private-hire coach borne visitors
Rail freight
High vehicle occupancy cars with 3+ people
Short-stay car borne shoppers
Car borne commuters, visitors, escort and leisure trips
HGVs over 7.5 tonnes
Powerful motorbikes
Air borne traffic

I'm not sure where to put boat passengers and river freight. It depends on their fuel efficiency and purpose. For instance, river taxis in York would only serve a leisure market.

What about buses and coaches?

Implementing the same timetabling solution as for rail would increase efficiency. Except, of course that car congestion does, and will continue to, disrupt running times unless road space is protected, for instance by enforced bus lanes.

Who has the brightest transport future?

Easy. People who deliberately cut their car use and choose to be car-lite or car free. Those who bother to work out that spending 1 in every 6 on cars is a waste of money, given that transport is a means, not an end - valuable only its ability to give access to work, education or other needs. The motivation is mainly financial but so many other benefits will become apparent in terms of better health, convenience, environmental awareness and quality of life. Many A to B readers are well up to speed on these arguments and are already role models to others. The challenge is to make choosing not to drive become part of the mainstream.

Any other challenges?

Raising the occupancy of all vehicles is a major issue yet to be tackled. Road pricing would encourage communal transport, as would a serious attempt by councils and companies to promote the cost-saving benefits of car and lift sharing. The number of car clubs and cheap hire firms is rising and I welcome this as a way to help people wean themselves from car dependency.

Anna Semlyen is a self-employed Traffic Reduction Consultant, author of 'Cutting Your Car Use' and a Research Associate with Passenger Transport Networks, specialists in travel demand analysis and geographic postcode mapping.

Send an A5 SAE for a FREE worksheet on how to add up your car costs or for details of traffic reduction services, such as seminars, green travel plans, and site specific multi-modal travel guides to: 24 Grange St, York YO10 4BH.

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