Transport Matters

Iain Docherty + Jon Shaw (editors)

Policy Press 2019
A book review by Danny Yee © 2020
Transport Matters is a real potpourri, with fifteen separate essays touching on most areas of transport, not integrated into any overarching framework. The approach is scholarly, with full references for each essay, but not at all theoretical or technical, and the pieces are broadly accessible. There are a few maps, but no tables of data or statistical analyses.

I found some new things to chew on in every essay, and some new perspectives on familiar material. The material is quite UK-centric, however, especially since it foregrounds policy-making, so may be of limited global interest.

Starting with the broad political economy of transport, Iain Docherty, Jon Shaw and David Waite argue that the economic stimulus from transport schemes is much less than is commonly assumed, while economic rebalancing is much harder. Status differences are significant, with the UK "spending disproportionate amounts of money on road and rail schemes" while underfunding buses.

Jillian Anable and Christian Brand give a high level overview of transport's role in energy use and climate change, critiquing approaches focused on energy efficiency and "techno-optimistic solutions" and suggesting instead the need to address unsustainable demands for mobility.

Looking at attempts to influence travel behaviour, Stewart Barr and John Preston suggest that "little things do not make a big difference", while "a political dogma of individual choice" has produced systems and social practices which work against attempts to make transport more sustainable.

Using the Merseytram scheme as an example, Robin Hickman finds problems with cost-benefit analysis, asking "whether a transport appraisal system largely developed decades ago remains useful to respond to contemporary problems", often prioritising economic efficiency over social equity and quality of life.

On road traffic forecasting, Phil Goodwin argues for considering the full range of model outcomes and evaluating projects against both high and low traffic scenarios: "The policy issue is of appraisal under conditions of contested futures, not just statistical uncertainty".

Angela Curl and Julie Clark look at the ways urban and transport planning affect "health, wellbeing and quality of life", arguing for "more radical, holistic policies".

Geoff Vigar and Georgiana Varna see in "participatory, ordinary urbanism" the potential for modest, low cost interventions to transform streets and public spaces.

Juliet Jain and William Clayton explore "The Journey Experience", going beyond the "productivity paradigm" to look at such uses of travel time as quiet time, relaxation, sleep and "anti-activity".

Taking HS2 as a case study, Tom Cohen and Dan Durrant explore the drawbacks to "decide, announce, defend", arguing for meaningful dialogue and participation even if that may in the end be about acknowledging and ameliorating the burdens imposed.

Using examples from the Scottish islands and highlands, David Gray looks at "the rural transport problem", focusing on the problems facing rural bus services and increasing car dependence. He also touches on the importance of informal lift-sharing and the potential for EVs and AVs.

Unexpectedly topical, David Dawson and Greg Marsden consider "Disruption and Resilience", focusing on climate-related disruptions and a tendency to "incremental muddling through", with a mismatch between notional service guarantees and capacity constraints creating "anger and resentment among travellers". More sustainable transport, with shorter trips and more options for mobility, may improve resilience.

Charles Musselwhite and Kiron Chatterjee consider demographic changes, in particular how "the needs of older people and young adults are not necessarily being met with the legacy transport systems and services and broader societal organisation based around assumption of ubiquitous car access and use".

And two closing essays overlap slightly: Graham Parkhurst and Andrew Seedhouse on "Will the 'smart mobility' revolution matter?" and Glenn Lyons on "Future Mobility".

November 2020

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Related reviews:
- Iain Docherty, Jon Shaw - The Transport Debate
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%T Transport Matters
%E Docherty, Iain
%E Shaw, Jon
%I Policy Press
%D 2019
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN-13 9781447329565
%P 421pp