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blog: 2017 - ITP’s year in motion

Author: Jon Parker

Looking out over a dreamy, snow-covered landscape while on the train from Derby feels like an ideal time to reflect on what’s been happening in the world of transport planning over the last year; and to consider what might be in store for 2018.  

It’s certainly been a busy time for ITP with the opening of a new office in Bristol.  This has helped us end 2017 with ten new faces and exciting new opportunities for our staff to live and work in the South West.  Astoundingly (where have the years gone?) 2018 will bring up our 20th anniversary, and I fully expect it to be an even busier one filled with interesting projects.

The year of HS2?

Looking back, it’s feels to me that 2017 will be heralded as the year HS2 finally began to transition from ‘lines on a map’ to ‘engineering project of the century’.  At least in the public consciousness.

Love it or hate it, there is no doubting that the new line is set to dominate the transport funding and delivery landscape for years to come.  Let’s just hope that, when the trains do finally start to run, the economic benefits that economists have been working very hard to find really do materialise and, most importantly, that they are distributed across the regions.  Bizarrely I’m now travelling past Curzon Street, and a couple sitting opposite me on the train have just said (rather loudly, and in a comforting Black Country twang) ‘that is going to look brilliant when HS2 arrives’.  Looking out across the derelict snow-scene, I can’t help thinking they might be right!

These developments have got me wondering whether 2018 might be the year the industry, and local authorities, begin to grasp the significant impact of HS2’s construction phase?  I sincerely hope it also heralds the start of planning to deliver the vital HS2 station connections required to deliver the patronage that will make the new line stack-up economically.

Train Station 2
Or the year of disruptive technology?

2017 might also be remembered as the year transport planners began taking the revolution coming our way from disruptive technologies, big data and ‘mobility as a service’ more seriously.  While the Transport Systems Catapult quietly hosted a number of hackathons and workshops; innovation was being rather more noisily delivered by Uber, Whim, and others who appear to be ‘cracking on’ with the process of bringing together travellers and mobility options.

With the hot topic of autonomous vehicles stealing column inches throughout 2017, we took the decision to run our own internal debate at a recent team meeting on whether ‘driverless cars’ really would transform transport in the coming years.  Passionate arguments were advanced on both sides, but reflecting from the side-lines I couldn’t help wondering whether the car manufacturers have been making the driving experience more autonomous for many years now, and will just continue to evolve in the years to come – hence it’s hard to understand why there’s all the fuss!?

Many of ITP’s projects for 2018 reflect our long-held belief that more autonomy isn’t going to solve our urban congestion problems and competition for precious roadspace in peak times.  Achieving this will require much better public transport provision allied to proactive roadspace and demand management measures to make a real difference.

Ltt Advert Slim
‘On the buses’

Which leads me to the Bus Services Act, guidance for which has been published during 2017.  My colleague Nick’s previous blog covered the topic in detail, suggesting it could provide a platform for reinvigorating public transport.  However, to do so will still require political leadership and a new era of cooperation and partnership working between the public sector and private bus operators.  ITP’s Nottingham team has seen this come to fruition through our work with Nottingham City Council to help deliver the Robin Hood Smartcard - the UK’s first (outside London) multi-operator pay-as-you-go fare product with daily capping.  

Of course, integrated ticketing only really makes a difference if complemented by the benefits of road space re-allocation in cities, and their suburban approaches, to ensure public transport has the priority it needs to offer people reliable and punctual journeys.   It might sound like basic stuff, but is so hard to implement in places where decision-makers still cling to the panacea of ‘building our way out of congestion’ and fail to provide sufficient road space for buses and cyclists, which brings me neatly to Bristol Temple Meads and time to…

… get on ‘yer bike

Whether (or not) 2017 has seen enough progress on the UK’s ‘cycle revolution’ is open to debate.  I’m still regularly disappointed by poorly-conceived routes, with way too much compromise when things get sticky, to make me believe that DfT’s laudable investment strategy targets are achievable.  We can and should make them happen, but it feels increasingly as though this will only occur when the culture of transport planning shifts at every decision-making level. 

Talking to visionary transport planners across the globe, there is no doubt we should be creating places for people and not facilitating more capacity for cars. The costs of not doing so are sadly seen across all sectors of UK society, from the air quality problems experienced in our cities, through to our ever-growing obesity and public health challenges.  Looking forward to 2018, I am hopeful that DfT’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy and accompanying support for local authorities outside London will help to kickstart the revolution.

Full Bike Stand
Life beyond these shores….

Its not all snow in ITP’s world. Holding a steady portfolio of international projects allows us to bring perspective to domestic issues as well as facilitating an all year-round sun tan! As the world urbanises the hot topics are urban resilience and protecting a healthy public transport mode share. Our largest ever project in Karachi will see the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit in the coming years and our efforts in Papua New Guinea will seek to address the appalling travel conditions that women experience travelling in the capital city day after day.  In Ukraine our work optimising public transport networks in Kyiv and Odesa has direct relevance to UK cities,  this we have combined with our knowledge of European mass transit to great effect in guiding future mass transit concepts in London.

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The journey continues in 2018

In 2018 we can and should put things right, and I think the drive for more housing offers the platform we need to create more sustainable places.  However, this can only happen if the forthcoming review of NPPF provides stronger and clearer direction on the following issues:

  • Building houses in the right locations
  • Planning for people in every aspect of the design of our new communities
  • Managing demand for car use in a positive way
  • Encouraging people to adopt healthy lifestyles and reward them for doing so

If we can start to get these things right then 2018 could be a momentous year.  Our team at ITP looks forward to working across the industry in helping to make it happen.  Since it will be our 20th anniversary we are also looking forward to celebrating in style with colleagues and clients along the way!

Jon Parker

Camden Sunset


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