New book suggests governments need to maintain focus on transformative transport strategies

Future governments need to keep paying more than just lip service to transport policy and projects, and fully appreciate the impact they can have on the UK’s population, economy and wider public policy goals.

Those are among the key messages in a new book, Transport Matters, which captures the research and opinions of some of the country’s leading transport academics and writers.

The book is the third in a series produced by Iain Docherty, Dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Stirling, and Jon Shaw, Professor of Transport Geography at the University of Plymouth.

A key focus this time has been on showing how good transport is fundamental to good quality of life. Professor Shaw said:

“In this book we’ve tried to take the concept of the civic university to a national level. Iain and I have brought together 27 highly-regarded authors from 14 British universities to provide clear, policy-relevant engagement and analysis and show how better transport can promote economic growth and improve quality of life for people across all of the UK’s local communities. One of our guiding principles in putting this book together was to work with contributors who, through their work, have had a longstanding commitment to supporting their university towns and cities, and surrounding areas.”

Their previous publications – A New Deal for Transport? (2003) and Traffic Jam (2008) – charted the then Labour government’s initial aspirations around transport policy and how, in the writers’ opinion, such lofty ambitions hadn’t been followed through.

Transport Matters, published by Policy Press, continues the story through the end of Labour’s 13-year period in government and the subsequent coalition, majority and minority Conservative administrations.

It suggests that notwithstanding – or, at least in part, because of – the rate of political change since 2010, transport seems to have gained a new lease of life at the UK government level.

Writing in the book’s introduction, Professor Docherty and Professor Shaw say:

“Governments have all too often failed to act beyond a conception of transport as something that just deals with conveying people and goods between places. They have not done enough to address the real point of what transport policy is for and why it matters. Of course, there are still problems in British transport policy that remain resilient and unresolved. But at least in relation to the delivery of inter-urban infrastructure capacity, there is a flicker of hope that transport has returned to some level of political attention.”

The book’s chapters focus on issues ranging from transport infrastructure to traveller experiences and how governments have tried to deal with increasingly complex and challenging transport demands, balancing the need to generate both economic and social opportunities.

The authors say that high-quality, reliable and affordable transport systems can’t themselves guarantee that ministers will accomplish their wider policy goals, but they do make promoting economic development and social inclusion much more attainable, and also reduce environmental harm in pursuit of socio-economic benefit.

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