‘Getting a Quart into a Pint Pot’: Challenges facing Transport for London by Olivia Milne-Day

Urban transport networksBen Plowden, Director of Strategy and Planning at Transport for London (TfL) Surface Transport, gave a thought-provoking talk to our students on the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development. The talk focused on how TfL need to optimise urban transport networks for maximum social, economic and environmental benefits and how they plan to achieve this.

Ben set the scene by highlighting the enormity of the task with almost 2.4 billion passengers using London’s bus network every year, the equivalent to a third of the world’s population. As the number of road users continues to grow, TfL have to control congestion whilst maintaining the flow of people around the city in all their different capacities, at all hours of the day, and in an environmentally sustainable way.

Key to the issue is understanding people’s behaviour and how the transport system is being used. This introduced two key questions:

1. How do people choose their mode of transport?

Ben identified 3 determinants which people consider when making a choice about transport: location, transport options, and personal attributes.

Determinants of transport choice

He compared this to his own life in Clapham where location-wise he can easily access everything he needs within 20 minutes, with the only exceptions of going to the opera and being abroad, and feels safe doing so. He has a range of transport options in which to do so. His personal attributes mean that he can afford different modes of transport, is physically able to use them and his values and beliefs allow him to take this options. He does not own a car as, if anything, this would be a hindrance on his quality of life.

2. Why do people travel?

Perhaps more importantly he focused on the necessities of travel in the first place.

  • Mobility – How much moving around do you do/do you need to do?
  • Access – How good is your access to jobs, services and opportunities?

An interesting slant on the issue, he emphasised the importance of reducing the need for mobility while still improving access to services and goods.

Using a very different example, Ben looked at the differences of access and mobility amongst different citizens. Asking the students if they had travelled inter-continentally in the past 12 months and if they were planning to travel intercontinentally in the next 12 months, there was a resounding yes in the room. Therefore, when asking “how big is the world you live in” you may conjure up images such as this:

View of world

Asking the question about the size of their world to a 16 year old from a low income community in Tower Hamlets produced a very different image:

Young people and territoriality in British cities, published in 2008

MENTAL MAP OF 16 YEAR OLD YOUTH – TOWER HAMLETS (From the report Young people and territoriality in British cities, published in 2008 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Reproduced by permission of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

Therefore, integral to any future planning to the transport system will be a deep understanding of the users and their need for mobility and access. Only by gaining a deep insight into the behaviours of people within the city can TfL effectively plan for the future.

These questions draw attention to the many issues that go beyond what we would initially think of as transport issues and looks at the wider implications of land use within the city, something that TfL is able to do as a single, integrated transport system. This is one advantage London has over other city’s transport systems and enables them to see the whole picture, from the intrinsic value of having a good bus service, an efficient tube system or safe cycle lanes, to the wider instrumental value of the transport system and what this actually means for people’s quality of life.

The issues and challenges presented by Ben certainly allowed for some interesting topics of conversation over dinner and left many with a new outlook of how to create a successful transport systems in our cities.


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