Travel Fast or Smart?:
A Manifesto for an Intelligent Transport Policy

David Metz

London Publishing Partnership 2016
A book review by Danny Yee © 2016
Advances in technology and the building of transport infrastructure have changed how far people travel rather than reducing the amount of time they spend doing it. Figures from the British National Travel Survey show that travel times, averaged over the population and over the year, have remained constant, at roughly one hour per day, for the last forty years. So the economic benefits of better transport infrastructure come from changes in land values and development potential, not from reductions in commuting times. And transport policy should focus on accessibility and destinations instead of mobility and increasing speeds.

This is laid out in the opening chapters of Travel Fast or Smart?, which goes on to apply this perspective to British travel policy.

Metz argues that "peak car" has come from saturation of demand as well as from declining use by younger people. He suggests that further demand will only come from population growth.

"To the extent that [further inhabitants] are housed on greenfield sites, on the edge of existing towns and villages, or in new settlements, they will want cars, and accordingly road construction will be needed. ... On the other hand, to the extent the additional population is housed within existing urban areas — on brownfield, sites, in gaps in streets or at higher density in existing housing — the scope for additional car use is limited, and investment in public transport will be more important"

And he looks at declining car use and ownership in London, at parking controls and traffic management and cycling, and at greenhouse mitigation.

Something of a digression is provided by a chapter on Heathrow, where Metz argues that the competitive UK airport market is capable of adapting to capacity constraints, and that business travellers will displace leisure travellers where necessary:

"The Airport Commission's estimate of the economic benefit of a new runway at Heathrow is both notional in its computation and much too large, in my judgment, being based on a 'do-minimum' comparator that fails to recognise the likely market response to a capacity constraint."

Metz next considers the potentials of technology. He argues that mechanical and civil engineering technologies such as electric cars are "inherently slow to evolve", whereas with digital technologies "development is typically fast and often disruptive". But he strangely includes autonomous vehicles in the latter category — and I think the glacial movement towards paperless offices and electronic medical record keeping might serve as a warning here. He suggests synergies may be important, such as the combination of "shared ownership of driverless vehicles with shared use".

A chapter "The Future of Travel" covers a bit of a grab-bag of topics: the problems with the Department of Transport's National Transport Model; big rail projects such as HS2, Crossrail and the Northern line extension; London river crossings; the role of the National Infrastructure Commission; the potential of road pricing; and the need for spatial planning and better transport models. Some of this is a little London-centric, but Metz concludes with a look at the challenges facing Britain's smaller cities and larger towns, in the context of broader choices about how we want to live.

A conclusion reiterates the need to link transport policy with broader planning.

"So we have substantial planned national public investment in roads and railways that is not linked to expected or hoped-for economic and population growth. The odds are that we will get ineffective transport expenditure with damaging environmental consequences. The government needs to be willing to plan for future development."

It digresses a little, but it has a coherent central thesis, about who benefits from transport infrastructure and the need for transport planning to be part of broader development and economic policy. So Travel Fast or Smart? is a good fit for this short book format, and should be enjoyed by anyone curious about British transport policy.

December 2016

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%T Travel Fast or Smart?
%S A Manifesto for an Intelligent Transport Policy
%A Metz, David
%I London Publishing Partnership
%D 2016
%O paperback, references
%G ISBN-13 9781907994593
%P 141pp