Creating national transport policies around the world

Governments are not only responsible for building and maintaining transport infrastructure, but also have the vital role to develop and implement policies to regulate transportation itself. Sir Tony May and Prof. Guenter Emberger guide us through the challenges that this task presents in the collection on National Transport Policy that they recently edited for the journal European Transport Research Review.

Governments have responsibility for national transport infrastructure, including roads, railways, ports and airports. But they also provide the regulatory and governance structure within which regional and local governments, private operators and transport users operate. While there is a considerable literature on infrastructure development for the different modes, there has been relatively little research and literature on the ways in which national governments carry out their responsibilities for nation-wide regulation and governance of transport.

There has been little research and literature on the ways in which national governments carry out their responsibilities for nation-wide regulation and governance of transport.

As a contribution to filling this gap, the World Conference on Transport Research Society established a Special Interest Group on National and Regional Transport Planning and Policy (SIG G2) in 2014. Its primary objective is to promote research relating to regional and national transport planning policy to improve the economic, environmental and social environment globally. Topics the Group explores include policy instruments such as traffic flow harmonisation, regulation and deregulation of transport operations, traffic management and control; tools for assessing and evaluating such policy options; and underlying national and international trends for population growth, aging, globalization, digitization, energy supply and technology. The Group is planning to publish a compendium of national transport plans.

In a recent topical collection on The development of National Transport Policy, published in the European Transport Research Review, we focus on the creation of national and regional transport masterplans in different regions of the world. The collection includes six papers from the Shanghai WCTRS 2016 conference. Paper 1 adopts a traditional approach in considering policies on road and rail development in France. Papers 2 to 5 offer historical reviews of national policy in Austria, Germany, Hungary and Japan. The sixth paper looks, across six countries, at national policy in support of urban transport.

Zembri-Mary reviews the development in France of competition in rail infrastructure investment, the privatisation of motorway companies and the growth of public-private partnerships, and assesses the impacts of these on project evaluation.  She identifies an increased emphasis on public consultation, environmental assessment and risk management, and suggests that these have helped reduce most project risks. However, she notes that risks remain from optimism bias, and that the wider socio-economic appraisals now conducted still fail to consider the distribution of risks among project partners and the wider public. She advocates the adoption of clear objectives for sustainable mobility, drawing on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change of 2015, and the wider use of multi-criteria appraisal.

The four papers reviewing national policy chart very different approaches in the countries involved. Austria, as reported by Emberger, produced its first Transport Master Plan in 1968, followed by revisions every decade from 1991, with different orientations depending on the political parties in government. By analysing the development of the transport master plans over time it could be shown clearly that the transport policy became more and more comprehensive over time. Fichert shows how Germany introduced the concept of sharing of tasks between the transport modes in 1953, but it was not until reunification that full Transport Master Plans were developed, again on broadly a ten year cycle. Oszter refers to an intermodal transport policy from 1848 in Hungary, but identifies the Transport Policy Concept of 1968 as the commencement of national transport policy thinking in the country, and as a document which still influences current policy.  Subsequent policy documents were produced in 1996 and 2002, with the most recent 2008 Transport Policy influenced by Hungary’s then recent accession to the European Union. Shibayama traces the development of national land use policies in Japan, which included specifications for new transport alignments, every decade from 1950, but notes that the first national transport policy document, the Basic Act on Transport Policy, did not appear until 2013.

Finally, May et al. look in more detail at national policy in support of the development of sustainable urban mobility plans (SUMPs). They note that, while the European Commission has produced guidance on SUMPs, it is national governments which provide the context within which cities develop such plans. Based on a review of the literature, they identify 20 criteria which determine the effectiveness of a national framework for SUMP development.  They then assess current practice in England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain. Of the 20 criteria, they identify ten which are poorly observed in all their six case studies, including coordination at national and local levels, providing coherent financing, avoiding infrastructure bias and encouraging local monitoring and national audit of SUMPs.

It is to be hoped that the planned compendium of reviews of national transport policy will provide further evidence of good practice in these areas, and thus help national governments to learn from one another.

While these six papers differ in their focus, they highlight a number of common themes which can be seen as challenges for the development of national transport plans. These include the need to specify clear objectives; to distinguish between objectives, strategy and the selection of policy measures; to avoid an undue focus on infrastructure provision and at the same time to adopt a multi-modal approach; to avoid optimism bias particularly in the financing of infrastructure; and to ensure that the performance of a national transport plan is regularly monitored against its objectives. It is to be hoped that the planned compendium of reviews of national transport policy will provide further evidence of good practice in these areas, and thus help national governments to learn from one another.

Check out the full collection here.

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