Complex decision-making responsibilities

Traditionally, transport and land use decisions have been made solely by elected politicians, advised by expert professionals. Life is now much more complicated. Very few cities are “islands”, so policies are influenced by neighbouring towns and cities, as well as by regional, national and European policy. Fewer policy decisions can now be taken solely by government. The private sector and agencies are increasingly responsible for public transport, road construction and land use decisions. Increasingly, too, those affected as users, businesses and residents expect to be fully involved in decision-making.

Complex interactions and multiple objectives

Decisions on specific policies can often appear deceptively simple. A new light rail line, for example, seems a good idea because it provides faster public transport, attracts people out of cars, and hence enhances the environment. But will other drivers simply use the resulting road space? Will light rail encourage longer distance commuting? Is it the best solution for the poorest residents? And is it the most cost-effective way of improving conditions? Urban land use and transport are a complex system, and the knock-on effects of any one decision may be difficult to predict and sometimes counter-intuitive. Increasingly, too, cities are concerned with the wider impacts of transport on other social issues, such as health, education and social inclusion. What is best will depend very much on the emphasis which a city gives to reducing congestion, improving the environment, stimulating healthier lifestyles, strengthening the economy and protecting those who are disadvantaged.

A wide range of options

Fortunately, we now have available a much wider range of possible policy interventions, including land use, information technology, management and pricing to add to the conventional provision of new infrastructure. However this, too, brings its challenges. We know much less about the potential of some of these newer instruments, or how well they work in different situations. Increasingly, too, the best solution will be a package of measures, and we need to understand how best to design such integrated approaches.

See Policy Instruments and Strategy Formulation.

Barriers to progress

A further challenge is the range of obstacles which limit a city’s ability to implement these individual policy instruments. Such barriers include the complex institutional structures mentioned above, but also legal restrictions on the use of certain measures, financial restrictions on the overall budget or the ways in which it can be spent, political and public opposition to certain types of policy instrument, and practical limitations on physical and technological changes. Failure to adopt a logical process for strategy development can also impose a barrier to effective planning. We hope that this Guidebook will help cities to avoid this.

See Barriers to Implementation.

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Text edited at the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT