Improving travel in cities
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Posted: 1 April 2005 | Jack Short, Secretary General, European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) | No comments yet
Policy-makers around the world more or less agree now that the best way to achieve sustainable urban travel is via a package of complementary measures that draw from regulatory, pricing and technological tools. And while recent experience from ECMT and OECD countries shows that while many countries and cities are developing these policy schemes to […]
Policy-makers around the world more or less agree now that the best way to achieve sustainable urban travel is via a package of complementary measures that draw from regulatory, pricing and technological tools. And while recent experience from ECMT and OECD countries shows that while many countries and cities are developing these policy schemes to improve the sustainability of urban travel, in general, translating these plans into action has been difficult.
Why is implementation so difficult?
Our work at ECMT has been focussed on trying to better ascertain where the difficult points lie in the policy, institutional and decision-making processes that make efficient, effective policy implementation of sustainable urban travel policies so difficult.
ECMT has identified a series of barriers that help to elucidate the question of why implementation has proven to be elusive in so many cities. These barriers include the following:
- Poor policy integration and coordination
- Inefficient or counterproductive institutional roles and procedures, including inadequate coordination and incomplete or excessive decentralisation of responsibilities for urban travel
- An unsupportive legal or regulatory framework
- Weaknesses in the pricing/fiscal framework
- Poor data quality and quantity
Focus on the institutional framework
While all of the barriers listed above pose problems for implementing sustainable urban travel polices, one of the key difficulties seems to lie in the way responsibilities for urban travel are allocated among different levels of government in an overall institutional framework.
Decentralisation: a key factor…
With increasing efforts to improve efficiency, many governments which formerly held responsibilities for urban travel have decentralised responsibilities for the organisation and financing of urban travel to regional and local levels.
Decentralisation of course makes a lot of sense in many ways: it is good practice to allocate responsibility for the provision of services to the closest level of impact and influence – as long as the regulatory and financial powers exist at those levels as well.
Devolution of powers from national government to a regional entity was seen in a number of cases as a key factor in successful implementation.
…except when inefficient, excessive, or incomplete
Some countries have encountered problems, however, stemming from the failure to transfer funding or revenue-generating powers commensurate to responsibilities, or due to the inability of national government to influence policy at the regional or local level. The sudden and virtually complete withdrawal of national government from local transport policy and operations at the beginning of transition in the early 1990s created an urban travel ‘policy vacuum’ in a number of CEE countries.
So what can governments do?
To begin with, initiatives to decentralise responsibilities for urban travel should ensure that transfer of authority to lower levels of government must be accompanied by transfer of commensurate responsibility for resources. This usually requires reform to fiscal and regulatory structures, so it is anything but easy; however it is necessary to ensure that implementation of urban travel policies can occur.
Governments can also:
- Provide a supportive legal and regulatory framework
- Ensure a comprehensive pricing and fiscal structure
- Rationalise financing and investment streams
Political commitment: the key to making it happen
Though government action in isolation is decidedly not enough to bring about the kinds of changes needed for sustainability in cities, a policy framework that embodies clear long-term objectives for urban travel – defined in concert with public and private stakeholders – can provide the essential parameters for implementation of integrated sustainable urban travel policies. In order for coordinated action to happen, however, there must be solid long-term political commitment.
Issue 1 2005