Understanding transport accessibility

Exploring the impact of transport service accessibility

Understanding how transport decisions create or reinforce social isolation and exclusion is essential when planning equitable infrastructure services. It has long been established that transport accessibility can have a significant impact on a person's ability to access education, healthcare, employment, and other essential services. Limited transport accessibility can also present significant barriers to social and economic mobility. Furthermore, dependence on private vehicles and the reduction in walking has been shown to exacerbate health issues such as obesity.

A March 2019 review by the University of Leeds for the Government Office for Science demonstrated that “mobility and accessibility inequalities are highly correlated with social disadvantage”. While the researchers place a significant share of the responsibility for social exclusion and lack of access to essential services on land-use and public service planning, they also identify a more general “urgent need for policies to more explicitly recognise the social value of transport”.

The report identifies a conflation of issues related to the limited access to private vehicles by lower-income households and the lack of public transport services in many peripheral social housing estates.

The 2019 report is itself built on the findings of an earlier, 2003 report by the UK Government's Social Exclusion Unit.

This report identifies the myriad ways that issues related to transport accessibility can affect people, business, communities and the state. Among these are:

Work: the lack of available transport options may preclude people from attending interviews or limit their job options. 38% of jobseekers identify transport as a barrier to employment. The number of people claiming to have declined to apply for jobs based on transport issues is also greater in low-income areas.

Learning: Extra-curricular activities that occur outside of school hours may have associated transport costs that are prohibitively expensive for lower income families. The lack of available public transport at these times may effectively exclude the children of such families also - having wide ranging implications for the child on everything from attainment to attendance in school.

Heathcare: The report identified that 1.4m a year were missing appointments or declining to seek medical attention based on transport problems.

A 2018 report by AgeUK further highlights this issue, stating that, “in our survey among 65+’s over a quarter of respondents (26%) said they or a loved one would not be able to get to their hospital appointment at all if family and friends were unable to drive them”

The 2019 report “There and Back” by Healthwatch, on people's experiences traveling to and from NHS services in the UK suggests that “public transport often doesn’t provide a direct link to NHS services and passengers need to take multiple modes of transport, or change a few times, adding more time and stress to their journey. This is particularly challenging for people with long-term conditions who may be living with chronic pain or reduced mobility.

Social activities: Health, the reduction of crime and the building of cohesive communities are all impacted by transport availability as a result of a person's ability to engage in social, culture, religious and other recreational activities. Poor physical and mental health outcomes for young and older people alike are often associated with a social network that has been limited by a lack of available transport options.

The impact of traffic: The report states that “There is a clear link between pedestrian accident rates and social class. The evidence is particularly marked for children.”

A Way Forward

The report does offer a number of optimistic strategies for developing more inclusive bus services, however:

  • Flexibility to respond to local needs: for example, through changes to regulations governing flexibly-routed services
  • better partnership working: both between local authorities and bus operators and between transport planners and social services, education and health providers; and * a review of funding: through the Government review of bus subsidies.

Flexibly-routed, or demand responsive transit systems (DRT) have proven difficult to establish and plan for in the recent past, for a number of reasons. Firstly, due to the requirement in England, Scotland and Wales to specify timetabled start and stop times in order to register a bus service, and secondly, because services which deviate from set routes may fail to qualify for the Bus Services Operators’ Grant, rendering them unfeasibly expensive.

Planning DRT has typically been a more complex task than planning fixed route services, with little in the way of specialised tools for constructing DRT scenarios. Existing metrics are often a poor fit for this type of relatively new transport.

The second strategy highlighted above, better partnership working, is something that has become more efficient in recent years as digital tools for sharing plans and analysis have facilitated better collaboration. Indeed, collaboration between local authorities and operators would later become a cornerstone of the National Bus Strategy.

In coming blog posts, we will look at how we can effectively measure accessibility and the comparative virtues of a number of common and newer metrics.

Podaris offers a wide variety of tools for rapidly measuring accessibility across your transport networks and surfacing insights on a easy-to-use, online platform. To see how Podaris can accelerate your transport planning projects, schedule a one-on-one demo with us today.