Small solutions to transport woe benefit environment

Small is often beautiful when looking for projects which could help Britain's transport system going into meltdown, and that is good news for the environment.

This was the view of a leading civil servant who lead the team charged with helping Sir Rod Eddington draw up his treasury-backed review of the UK’s transport needs.

Speaking at a London conference organized by the Waterfront Partnership to look at the likely impact of the review, Oliver Jones showed figures that suggested that ‘small’ projects potentially had better returns than grand, all-encompassing schemes.

While it was the review’s recommendation of road pricing that grabbed the headlines when it was published (see related story) Mr Jones suggested it could be more modest measures that delivered the biggest economic, and environmental, benefits.

Although the generous definition in the report considers any measure costing under £1bn as ‘small’, this was the area where investment was likely to deliver the biggest returns.

Mr Jones said there were some small measures which would have returns of 20 to 30 times the investment and while these were relatively few and far between, there were a huge number of measures which could deliver a five or sixfold payback.

While the review focused on the economic case for improving the country’s transport structure, it is potentially good news for the environment, as schemes falling into this bracket include the vast majority of projects facilitating green, healthy modes of transport such as walking and cycling.

It also favours increased use of public transport such as buses as a means of reducing congestion, and pollution, from private motoring.

Robert Cochrane of Imperial College London, academic friend of the review, cautioned against withholding the stick and relying on the carrot alone to encourage people to be more environmentally friendly.

“You can’t simply expect exhort the public to be more green minded, that’s not going to work for 90% of the population,” he said.

He added that of course the arguments should be made and would be effective in changing some people’s behaviour, but people could not be relied on to do the right thing for society for its own sake.

“We must try it and it does have some effect but ensuring that people’s individual behaviour is in the interests of themselves as well as society generally works a bit better,” he said.

Sam Bond

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