9.2 – Transport Planning and Governance

Authors: Dr. Brian Slack and Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue

Transport planning focuses on the public provision and financing of transportation assets, particularly roads and public transit systems.

1. The Purpose of Planning

“Long-range plans engender the dangerous belief that the future is under control.”

Max Gunther

Transport planning usually addresses specific problems or broad transport concerns at a local level and has been traditionally a preoccupation of lower-tier governments (state, county, municipal). Because of this fact, transport planning is most developed in the urban sphere, and it is there where most experience has been gathered. The planning process, however, has several similarities with the policy process. Identifying a problem, seeking options, and implementing the chosen strategy are essential steps in planning too. Because it tends to deal with localized problems, the solutions adopted in transport planning tend to be much more exact and specific than policy directives.

The common perspective is that planning is the realm of the public sector, although the private sector owns and operates substantial transportation assets. For a long time, planning was a field dominated by engineers who gave it a distinctly mechanistic character. The planning process was seen as a series of rigorous steps undertaken to measure likely impacts and propose engineering solutions. There were four major steps in this standard approach; trip generation, trip distribution, modal split, and route selection. They involved the use of mathematical models, including regression analysis, entropy-maximizing models, and critical path analysis.

There are many reasons why the results of these models should be treated with caution:

  • They are only as good as the data they manipulate, and many times the data is inaccurate or incomplete.
  • They are based on assumptions that the mathematical relationships between variables remain constant.
  • They can be manipulated to produce the outcome that would be the most preferred by the actors promoting policy or a project.
  • Because the predictions were rarely subjected to subsequent evaluation, their validity is largely questioned, and the modeler is happy to predict the future since projections rarely question the validity of the methodology.

The predictions of future traffic levels produced by the four-stage sequence are then used to identify planning options. Since the most common prediction of the modeling is that present capacities will be unable to cope with traffic growth, the tendency has been to produce planning solutions that call for an expansion of capacity. This has been referred to as predict and accommodate. It is the solution that has typified much of the urban transport planning from the 1940s to the 1980s. It has given rise to the enormous expansion of highway construction that reinforces the dominance of the automobile. Rarely postmortems of the prediction models are undertaken, and as it was learned through empirical observations, the issue of induced demand has distorted the actual traffic.

2. Contemporary Transport Planning

Planning is commonly scale-specific and multidimensional. In cities, traffic problems have increased significantly since the 1970s, despite a great deal of urban transport planning. There is a growing realization that perhaps planning has failed and that the wrong questions have been asked. Rather than estimate traffic increases and then provide the capacity to meet the expected growth, it is now accepted that what is required is better management of the transport system, particularly maintenance, through new approaches to planning. Just as urban planning requires the inputs of many specialists, transport planning is beginning to utilize multi-disciplinary teams to broaden the scope of the planning process. Planning is still a multi-step process, but it has changed considerably:

  • Goals and objectives. While the goal of traditional transport policy, improving accessibility, is still useful, it must be considered in the context of other desirable goals. For instance, improving safety and health, reducing vehicle emissions, improving equity, enhancing economic opportunities, improving community livability, promoting mobility are all valid. But the prioritization of goals results in a very different planning process. Defining goals becomes a much more complicated stage in contemporary planning. Increasingly, goals have turned to consider managing demand, rather than trying to build capacity.
  • Options. Given the possible range of goals that transport planners must consider, it becomes necessary to provide a set of possible options. Several objectives may be desirable, and thus it is important to consider what they imply. Several scenarios may have to be considered, and they must become important components of the planning process.
  • Identification of actors, institutions, and stakeholders. Given that transport planning has the potential to influence so many elements of society, it is important that those affected by the transport problem and its potential resolution should be identified so that they can be engaged. This would be a much broader list of affected parties than merely those involved in transportation activity itself and requires recognizing a role for citizen participation. Failure to do so runs the risk of a project to meet significant opposition from stakeholders perceiving that they have been left out or that can be negatively impacted.
  • Predicting outcomes, identifying benefits, and assessing costs. The stage of predicting the outcomes for each of the options is a critical step in the process. Models continue to play an important role, but whereas the traditional models were based on the number of trips, increasingly modeling is becoming more activity-based. Transport is seen in the context of scheduling household decisions in time and space. Demographic and social data are used extensively, and mathematical models have become more sophisticated. Nevertheless, there are roles for other types of analyses, including non-objective forecasts. The predicted outcomes must then be assessed as to their benefits and costs. These may be expressed in monetary terms, but many transport planning situations call for measurement in other terms, such as visual impacts, environmental dislocations, and employment impacts.
  • Choosing a course of action. Evaluation of the scenarios must consider the costs and benefits from the frequently conflicting perspectives of the stakeholders and actors. Extensive public consultation may be required. The information must be disseminated and explained so that an informed public can participate in the debate. Ultimately it will be the politicians who decide, but they are swayed by the strength of the arguments presented by the transport professionals and in publicly contentious cases by pressure brought to bear by citizen groups.

The vast preponderance of transport planning, particularly at the urban level, has been devoted to passengers. The automobile and public transit issues have preoccupied planners since individual mobility can be a highly political issue (drivers are also voters). Yet, the mobility of freight represents a significant part of many problems that planning seeks to address. Planning for freight movements, such as city logistics, is still in its infancy. As a large private sector activity, it is difficult to control, and the industry itself makes many of the decisions that affect trucking. The emergence of large distribution centers on the outer fringes of metropolitan areas is taking place without much public control or oversight. In Europe, some attempts to manage such development by establishing publicly promoted freight villages had only limited success.

The models and data inputs used in transportation planning are of little relevance when applied to the mobility of freight. For example, demographic data, such as household size, the backbone of passenger analysis, are irrelevant for freight flows within the manufacturing sector. However, it matters for home deliveries. The bi-polar daily peak of traffic movements applies only to passengers, freight movements being distributed in a different profile over a 24-hour period. Therefore, a more comprehensive freight planning process is emerging. In many cities, there is limited data on freight traffic, so that planning takes place on an ad hoc basis. A much greater focus on freight planning is required since freight distribution is an important component of urban mobility and activities.

3. Transport Demand Management

In rejecting the former paradigm of building capacity, transport planners have turned increasingly to manage both demand and the transport system. Building roads has produced a car-oriented society in which the other modal alternatives have little opportunity to co-exist. Car ownership is beyond the ability of the transport planner to control directly, and the question remains if this should be the case. But car use and ownership are affected by land use and density, both elements that planners can affect. High population densities favor walking, bicycling, and public transit use. It is for this reason that a great deal of attention in planning is being paid to densification and integration. This includes concentrating development along well-served transport corridors (transit-oriented development) and increasing densities in areas undergoing rehabilitation.

Managing the demand for transport is made up of a large number of small interventions that cumulatively can impact car use, but in particular, improve the livability of cities. A sample of well-practiced and successful interventions includes:

  • Park and ride. Parking spaces are provided, usually close to an expressway, where drivers can board public transit (e.g. buses or light rail) that provide service to the city center. This has become a staple feature in the outer zones of many US and British cities. Its success is variable, however, and there is some evidence from the UK that park and ride may increase car use, as people who may have used regular bus services now use their cars to drive to the car parks.
  • Traffic calming. Measures that seek to reduce the speed of vehicles in urban areas, such as speed bumps and street narrowing. For residential streets, the goal is to make their use by car drivers unattractive because of the obstacles. For thoroughfares, the objective is to reduce the average speeds. The measures indicate the need for much greater attention to street design and layout.
  • Priority lanes for buses and high occupancy vehicles. Lanes on major thoroughfares and expressways that are reserved for buses, taxis, and passenger vehicles with several occupants. This has become an essential feature of transport planning in North America, where major highway expansion projects offer priority lanes. The goal is to encourage the use of buses and high occupancy vehicles that can be seen to travel at higher speeds along the reserved lanes by other drivers who may be stuck in traffic jams.
  • Alternate work schedules. Encouraging work hours other than the dominant 9 to 5 schedule. One of the most salient problems in transport planning is that demand is concentrated in two main peak periods. In the past, efforts were made to meet this demand by increasing road capacity, which was never sufficient, and resulted in under usage of the off-peak capacity. Promoting flexible schedules and encouraging telecommuting are policies that are seeking to spread out the demand for transport over more hours and even reducing the demand altogether.
  • Promoting bicycle use. In some countries, particularly the Netherlands, the bicycle is an important mode of travel. It is a green and healthy mode, but in automobile-dependent cities, the bicycle does not share the roads easily with trucks and cars. Encouraging greater use of the bicycle requires significant planning adjustments, such as the provision of bicycle lanes and bike stands.
  • Car sharing. Encouraging drivers to share car use with neighbors or co-workers. Information technologies have enabled to extend car-sharing schemes to a wider base.
  • Enhancing pedestrian areas. In most cities, vehicles dominate the streets. In many areas of high population density, the quality of life (enhanced safety, less pollution, etc.) and the visual attractiveness of streetscapes can be enhanced by excluding vehicles from streets altogether or limiting access to public transport vehicles. In Europe, this has become a distinctive feature of the historic cores of many cities.
  • Improving public transit. For half a century or more public transit use as declined in most cities. Yet it is the only alternative to the car in these cities, and thus enhancing the use of transit has become a major planning objective. Improvements include making transit more attractive by improving bus schedules and improving the appearance and comfort of transit vehicles and stations. At the same time, efforts are underway to widen the range of transit alternatives. These include extending commuter rail services and constructing new systems such as light and heavy rail modes.
  • Parking management. Restricting on-street parking and charging higher rates for parking. This also applies to the parking of delivery vehicles, which has become an important issue with the growth of e-commerce and the associated home deliveries.

4. Pricing

While planning interventions may have a positive cumulative effect in shaping transport demand, some economists suggest that a more direct approach involving imposing more stringent cost measures on car users is necessary. It is widely accepted that car users pay only a small proportion of the actual costs of their vehicle use. Economists argue that users should bear the external costs. As intuitively rational as this argument may be, there are several problems with its application:

  • First, there are difficulties in measuring externalities, with considerable variations in estimates between different studies. Different types of use, speeds, engines, vehicle weight, or driving conditions, making it challenging to produce broadly accepted values. Decision-makers have difficulty in agreeing to impose charges when there is a diversity of evidence about external costs.
  • Second, there are practical difficulties in collecting these costs. One of the easiest and most widely used methods is a gasoline tax. It is a crude approach, however, because it imperfectly distinguishes between driving conditions and engine type. A fuel-efficient vehicle may have just as high consumption in heavy urban traffic as a less efficient vehicle in a rural setting. The growth in the use of alternative fuels such as electricity will further challenge fuel taxes.
  • Third, is the political difficulty of imposing such additional costs on the public. Free access to roads tends to be seen as a right, and it is intensely unpopular to propose any new forms of revenue generation that hints at additional taxation.

The effectiveness of economic controls is evident by the experience of Hong Kong, where, despite high incomes, car ownership and use remain at a very low level. This is mainly due to the high cost of parking. An even more drastic example is Singapore, where extreme measures limiting car purchases, high vehicle licenses, electronic tolls on highways, and cordon pricing in the downtown area have restrained car use.

The use of pricing mechanisms may be less in other countries, but the trend towards the greater application of some forms of tolling is accelerating. Cordon pricing has been applied in several jurisdictions where access to certain areas, usually the CBD, is tolled. A famous application was the decision to charge private vehicles for entry into Central London in early 2003, a program that has proved to be successful, despite a great deal of opposition.

Another form of charging is the imposition of tolls on new highways and bridges. In North America, the public had become used to the notion that highways are free of access, a legacy of the Interstate Highways Act, primarily funded by Congress. The legislation now permits private companies to build and operate private roads and bridges and to collect tolls to cover costs. A similar trend applies to developing economies such as China, where many new roads and bridges are toll-based.

With congestion or “fair” pricing, certain lanes of a highway are tolled but at variable rates. When traffic is moving freely, the charges for the tolled lanes are nil. But as traffic builds up and speeds are reduced, the costs of using the reserved lanes increase. The collection of the tolls is electronic, and drivers are informed of the current charges by large signs. Drivers are given a choice, therefore, to stay in the slower lanes for free, or move to the tolled lanes at a cost that is proportionate to the speed on the congested lanes.

5. Governance in Transportation

Transport policy and planning require governance, which is associated with the practical usage of existing resources as well as better allocation of new resources. Like all sectors of activity, transportation has a unique set of characteristics about its governance as both the public and private sectors are actively involved.

Governance concerns the ownership and management of assets and resources to fulfill goals such as profit or welfare through the exercise of authority and institutional resources. It concerns the public as well as the private sectors but tends to apply differently depending on if public or private interests are at stake. In both cases, a significant concern is performance, which is how effectively available assets are used.

The governance of transport infrastructure is particularly relevant because of the strategic, economic, and social importance of transportation and the cross-jurisdictional character of many infrastructures such as highway, rail, and telecommunication networks. Transport is not of mere convenience, but a fundamental infrastructure that must systematically and continuously be available to its users. Effective governance is complex to assess since it is not linked with a specific governance structure, but generally conveys several advantages:

  • Confidence. It provides a level of confidence that an activity, such as a terminal or a logistics zone, is effectively managed. This can involve daily operations as well as the planning, design, and funding of new infrastructure. Effective governance is linked with consistent and reliable services as well as a good level of responsiveness and feedback when an unexpected issue arises.
  • Capital costs. Lowers capital costs as investors and financial institutions have confidence that the allocated capital will be effectively used in the development and expansion of productive assets generating returns.
  • Competitiveness. Improves the capability to compete through the retention of existing users and the attraction of new ones. This can take many forms, such as lower costs, but factors such as clear expectations and transparency are also significant. Keeping market considerations constant, organizations with better governance are usually able to be more competitive than organizations having less effective governance.
  • Stability. It confers a long-term resilience of the organization, which provides a level of stability in capital markets and the financial institutions supporting them. Many transportation infrastructures have a long life span that can be more effectively managed with a stable governance structure.

For transport infrastructures such as port terminals, airports, highways, inland ports, or logistics zones, many different forms of governance are in place which shape modes of financing, operations, functioning, and external relationships. This is particularly important as large transport infrastructure involved in global flows of passengers and freight is complex, capital intensive, and of strategic importance to the economic welfare of whole regions. Therefore, the capital intensiveness and the long life span of transportation infrastructures underline the need for effective governance to ensure that the infrastructures are adequately funded, maintained, operated, and expanded.

There are two main components of transport governance; ownership and operations. Ownership involves who is the owner of the terminal site and facilities (including equipment):

  • Public ownership is common because of the economic and strategic importance of many types of terminals. In several jurisdictions, passenger railroads are owned by the national government, and the passenger stations are thus under the control of the state-owned railway company, such as is the case in China, Europe, and North America. Public ownership of airports is also prevalent, although, in the United States, this takes place at the state or municipal levels of government. Under public ownership, investment in infrastructure and planning future expansion is carried out by the public authority using public monies or public guarantees for capital borrowed from private markets. The private sector is then offered leasing opportunities in which terms and duration can be negotiated.
  • Private ownership is less evident in transport terminals. There are numerous exceptions for certain modes, such as road freight (distribution centers), rail freight transport in North America (terminals and rights of way), and where privatization has taken place in ports and airports in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Here, private capital is used to provide infrastructure.

Operations involve the day-to-day management and carrying out of terminal activities:

  • Public control of operations is typical in many ports, such as Singapore and Hampton Roads, in many state-controlled railroads such as China, and at publicly owned airports such as in the United States. Here the public authority provides the handling equipment, contracts with the labor force, and operates the rail, airport, and port terminals.
  • Private companies manage and carry out operations in privately owned terminals. They are also active as operators in many publicly owned facilities under a concession agreement. The latter is a growing trend in ports and airports, where facilities are leased to terminal operators for fixed terms. The types of concessions vary considerably, in terms of duration and conditions. Some are short term, a few years or so; more typically, they are long-term concessions of 15 to 30 years. In some, the owner provides some equipment, such as gantry cranes in ports. In others, the concession holders are expected to invest in equipment. In some, they are required to use public employees, while in others, they may use their own workers.

Public ownership and operations have been important in many modes because of the strategic importance of transport and the long-term investments required that the private sector may be incapable or unwilling to make. In this way, the terminals can be owned and operated as public goods and can be integrated with public regional and national economic policies. On the other hand, public facilities are seen by some as slow to respond to market conditions, with a propensity to over-invest in non-economic developments, and with high costs to the users. The default is commonly to leave the governance structure the way it is since inertia is the usual norm for managing large infrastructures.

Related Topics


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