The economic benefits of improved transport accessibility

 By Lorenzo Casullo, International Transport Forum

Cover photo accessibility RT croppedA transport journey is very often the first step to participating in economic and social activities – from jobs to schools to hospitals. So if we are no promote full participation and inclusion of all citizens, including those with mobility impairments and disabilities, it is imperative to provide accessible transport options for the largest possible share of the population.

Accessible transportation should be at the forefront not only of mobility policies, but also of urban development at large. An urban approach to greater accessibility should integrate transport planning for all at the early stages of design.

Therefore, a key question is: how can we ensure that decision makers (at the local and national level) invest adequate and targeted sums of money to achieve these goals? Likewise, how can we better promote legislation about the rights of passengers and the duties of transport providers so that accessibility for all is maximised?

Filling the gap

This is the challenge that we, at the International Transport Forum, have laid out for discussion with our member countries and partner organisations. And being a think-tank with a focus on economic policies, we have identified one crucial factor that represents a barrier to investment and more far-reaching regulations – namely, the lack of a common approach to identify and value (including in monetary terms) the economic benefits of accessible transport.

Economic Benefits of Accessibility Report Cover w line around

 

A year ago, we gathered world experts and campaigners in Paris so as to work together towards a clear objective: filling the gap in the theory and practice of accessibility benefits. We produced this report which today stands as a unique compendium of good practice in this field.

We do not wish for our focus on economic benefits to be seen as alternative to the rights-based approaches that the United Nations have successfully rolled out globally, and that numerous governments including those in this room today implement with determination across the world. Rather, our work aims to complement these efforts.

A win-win situation

Our conclusion is that without a clear and robust framework to value the benefits of greater accessibility, these improvements will fail to become a priority – especially when other types of investment (such as to reduced congestion and improved safety) display a large benefits-tag, but accessible transport does not.

Most importantly, assessing the socio-economic benefits of accessibility shows decision-makers a clear win-win situation: investment in accessible transport is beneficial to a large section of the population, and not just to those who are mobility-impaired at the time of planned investment.

Let’s focus on these two key findings – that designing transport systems for those that are less mobile is actually good for everyone, and; that if we do not demonstrate value, accessibility investment will be not be a priority.

More than marginal

First, how do we show that greater transport accessibility is good for all passengers? We need to identify the main beneficiaries. Moving away from a narrower focus on current passengers with some disability, we find that those who benefit also include passengers that are temporarily encumbered in their movements – such as parents with small children, travellers with heavy luggage, pregnant and injured people.

Identifying the beneficiaries of accessible transport

Recent research in the UK and in France gives us an indicative magnitude of this exercise. Studies for the Access for All programme in Britain show that only 1% of passengers at railway stations define themselves as disabled, but more than 5% fall in the “temporarily encumbered” category. Detailed surveys in the Paris metropolitan area confirm that beneficiaries go beyond the less mobile passengers, and include 7% of the population travelling with temporary limitations. For all these travellers, low-floor buses, lifts to stations and simpler pedestrian crossings are of great importance.

An even wider focus on beneficiaries should take into account those who are currently not using transport systems because they are inaccessible to them. For these citizens, better transport accessibility does not mean a “marginally better” journey. It means an entirely transformational impact, providing freedom to access opportunities and services that would have otherwise been precluded. And the number of future beneficiaries is only going to grow in ageing societies.

Capturing the benefits

Secondly, how do we demonstrate the economic value of such investment? We need to adapt and further develop existing economic approaches. Transport practitioners already use those robust approaches in the assessment of economic impacts, and their application to accessible transport is absolutely possible.

Our report is there to help anyone identify and capture these benefits, which include welfare benefits, reduced health and social care costs, and broader economic impacts such as increased participation to economic activities. We also need to add new benefits to the list, including social benefits like reduced stress levels and lower fear of isolation; and private sector benefits such as increased patronage for transport providers.

Identifying and capturing economic benefits

The rare examples of economic valuations undertaken to date demonstrate that the magnitude of potential benefits from improved transport accessibility is often large enough to offset the higher costs. We see this in Britain where the government found a positive business case for investing in accessible railway stations; and in Norway where the National Transport Institute showed that the benefits of making universally accessible bus stops outweigh the costs. In France, a start-up  called Wheeliz is the first peer-to-peer rental website specialising in disability adapted cars for wheelchair users – its growth across Europe is backed by investors.

Whenever you have the chance to do so, outline the socio-economic benefits that accessible transport can unlock. Let’s make this argument to attract more and better investment. Let’s work together towards more accessible and more inclusive cities for all.


Lorenzo Casullo is an economist with the International Transport Forum. This text is based on his presentation at the DESA/DSPD Forum on Advancing Accessible and Inclusive Urban Development for All, held on 14 June 2017 in the context of the 10th session of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

“The future of transport is electric”

Jochen Eickholt Siemens Mobility CEOJochen Eickholt, the CEO of Siemens Mobility, talks about electric highways and bus networks and creating cities full of sensors that link up cars with their surroundings.


One of your projects at Siemens is electrifying motorways, so electric trucks can be used for long-distance freight, without even requiring batteries. Why are you convinced that the “eHighway”, as you call it, is the future of road freight?

Transport remains the last sector where fossil fuel dependency has not been substantially mitigated, making it a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. Electric mobility offers a variety of benefits here, including improved local air quality, fuel diversification into renewable sources to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, and increased energy efficiency to lower operating costs. The eHighway combines resource-efficient railway technology with the flexibility of road transport.

How does this work in practice?

The adapted hybrid trucks are supplied with electricity from overhead contact lines. An active pantograph can automatically connect and disconnect with the contact line at speeds up to 90 km/h. The direct transmission of electric energy ensures an outstanding efficiency of 80 to 85 per cent from substation in-feed to the wheel. This is twice as high as that of conventional diesel engines. The eHighway also makes it possible to recover braking energy and store it on-board. It can also feed other trucks operating on the system or even feed the electricity back into the public grid. These energy savings translate into even higher system efficiency, lower emissions, and lower energy consumption. High efficiency is the backbone of future road freight transport as well as decarbonisation.

Talking about electric mobility, would you agree that it will play a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions of  passenger transport?

The future of transport is electric, whether by rail or by road.  For metros, light rail and high-speed trains  electrification has been established for many years as a way to ensure highest energy efficiency while  minimizing local emissions. With the ongoing electrification of railroads all over the world, rail traffic has become increasingly emission free. According to a recent study by the International Railway Union (UIC), rail is the most emissions-efficient major transport mode. Electric trains powered by renewable energy can offer practically carbon-free journeys and transport.

In cities, eBuses will play a role similar to the one I just described for the eHighway and hybrid-driven trucks. They offer the same advantages -energy efficiency, local zero emissions and, thanks to modern control systems, an improved travel experience for passengers. This is why they are in a good position to help satisfy the increasing demand for sustainable transport solutions in cities at a time when growing transport volumes and limited expansion possibilities for transport routes pose ever more serious problems.

What kind of innovations do engineers have in store to make electrified public transport a regular sight?

It is possible for instance to equip buses with a flexible Offboard High Power Charger, which adds considerable flexibility to eBus services. The buses need to stop at the charging station only for a few minutes. The system is ideal for high-frequency operations, since the charging infrastructure can be used by several buses per hour. It would even work if the vehicles were produced by different manufacturers. This is no scenario for the distant future; in fact the system’s practical feasibility in daily operation is already being demonstrated – for instance in Vienna, Gothenburg or Hamburg.

Offboard High Power charger
Offboard High Power Charger in Hamburg (Photo: Siemens)

Everyone is talking about self-driving vehicles. What is your take on autonomous driving?

The next step in the evolution of green, safe and efficient public transport on roads will be self-driving shuttle buses. At present there are several pilot projects under way, in areas such as university campuses and still operating with a driver as a back-up. Over the long run, electric-powered self-driving cars will be the new norm for individual and shared traffic in our cities. They are safe, emission-free and silent. But there is still a long way to go – infrastructures are not ready for that phase yet.

 

Cr2X screenshot

What needs to happen in terms of infrastructure?

 

Today, self-driving cars run well only under certain conditions,-  in a controlled environment and when the weather is right. The sensors fail when it rains or snows; and they also fail when the sun is too bright. And even though they already are quite powerful, sensors can’t see around the corner or through an object that is blocking the sensors sight. Today, the human driver serves as a “redundancy system” that makes up for these defects. But without someone at the wheel, the self-driving car would have only one option: to switch to safe mode in uncertain situations. This is not acceptable, because it means having to reduce speed radically or even stopping. Neither alternative is compatible with traffic regulations and the requirement not to hinder the flow of traffic. And, even worse, passengers wouldn’t accept driving in a slow and stuttering vehicle.

Overcoming these restrictions first of all needs a different perspective. We need to move from a car-centered approach to a systemic approach. There have to be sensors not only in the cars, but on the road as well to monitor and process what’s going on there – and communicate what they see to the cars. Similarly, cars need to communicate with one another and with the infrastructure around them. The combination of  complementary roadside sensor networks, a reliable real-time communication network such as 5G, and autonomous electric-powered cars will form a systemic transport net for future cities. But without the appropriate infrastructure, such a vision will remain  science fiction.


Jochen Eickholt leads the Mobility Division of global engineering giant Siemens AG. He studied electrical engineering at Aachen Technical University in Germany and Imperial College London, UK. He was appointed CEO of the Rail Automation Business Unit in 2009 and became CEO of the Mobility Division in 2012. On 31 May 2017 he will join ministers and other leaders for a discussion of  “The governance of transport in the digital economy” in the opening plenary of  ITF’s 2017 Summit on “Governance of Transport”

 

Safe and secure, from London to Lahore and everywhere in between!

Heather Allen, independent consultant on sustainable transport, climate change and gender

international-womens-day-logo

March 8th – International Women’s Day – gives us a good reason to reflect on progress on the variety of women’s issues that are hindering equality. Being safe and secure is a basic human value – yet in today’s world, personal security is still a major issue everywhere. In a woman’s world there are also more subtle links between it, public space and transport that I have been looking into more closely having just finished a review of published literature on this subject.  The report will be published soon on http://www.fiafoundation.org/connect/publications.

Many studies show that all over the world women use all forms of public transport[1] more than men and, more importantly, they usually rely on it more than men as they have fewer or no other mobility choices. Yet they are also more worried about using it, as their personal security is frequently compromised, and it appears that this may be getting worse rather than better!

Incidents often take place in public places, especially as women travel to and from places of education or to and from work. It comes as no surprise that it especially seems to occur on public transport, and not only in the developing world! To avoid this, women tend to use strategies that mean either they decide not to travel or they seriously change their travel habits. This impacts their access to opportunities, and ultimately their quality of life.

Harassment is a complex subject, and not made any easier by the subjective nature of how individuals interpret what might be considered harassment. In some cultures this is directed by social norms whilst in others it may be religious, faith or even income-based. We are not just talking about violence here, but rather behaviours that are unwanted, uninvited or that cause fear. Fear of it happening is as bad as what actually happens and it affects different women in different ways, making it difficult to apply scientific theory to understand why and how this happens. Collecting data on this is also made more difficult as the information can be spread across a number of security agencies, so much of the information can be considered anecdotal, unless it is obviously of a criminal nature.

It would seem to be on the increase despite the high estimated level of non-reporting of incidents that were found internationally. In New York it is estimated that 96 per cent of sexual harassment and 86 per cent of sexual assault on the subway goes unreported; in Baku, Azerbaijan, none of the 162 out of 200 women who reported having been sexually harassed on the metro reported it to the appropriate authority. In Egypt, only 2.4 per cent of the 83 per cent of Egyptian women and 7.5 per cent of the 98 per cent of foreign women living or travelling in Egypt who had experienced sexual harassment in a public place reported it.

There is little documented evidence that women have either reduced their mobility horizons or changed their travel patterns entirely because of concerns over personal security. But we do know that all forms of harassment affect women deeply and reduce their confidence, and that they implement strategies to reduce the risk of this, which ultimately impacts their ability to move freely in public places. If this is directly associated with their transport options, it is also likely to affect their decisions to take up educational opportunities, join the labour market and influences the kinds of jobs they pursue[2].

In addition, if women pass on a negative value judgement to their children, those boys and girls will grow up thinking that public transport is unsafe. It is likely that this will become ‘a belief’ as they grow into adulthood and as soon as they can, they will prefer to buy or share a car, motorbike or scooter – creating a vicious downward spiral of increased congestion even if every vehicle is cleaner than today!

So where does that lead us? Certainly farther away from where we want to be in terms of equal opportunities and sustainable development. Excluding women from being active in the labour market, for any reason should be considered to be out of order in today’s world. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if women in every country were to play an identical role to men in markets, as much as US$28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025. If this exclusion or reduced opportunity is due to transport inequalities, we can do something about it, but only if we shift it to being a development rather than a security issue.

Both aspects are interdependent – the more active women are in the labour market the more they are able to demand safe and secure transport, while the less empowered they are the more socially exclusive transport becomes. Putting them in separate carriages may be a temporary solution, but it also underpins the concept that women should be kept apart and not be given equal rights.

By addressing both ends of this equation we can create a win, win, win situation – addressing equity, economic empowerment and improving quality of life. But we need to make sure that people do not think that harassment is unavoidable or acceptable, or that they will not be caught. Let’s start today in respect of women everywhere!

Useful links

This article is based on work supported by the FIA Foundation. I would like to express my thanks to the FIA Foundation for its foresight and vision in supporting this research. The full report and executive summary can be downloaded here.

You are invited to attend a free FIA Foundation webinar on 21 March 14:00 -17:00 GMT. Details are available from Caroline Flynn (c.flynn@fiafoundation.org).

At the upcoming International Transport Forum’s 2016 Summit, 18-20 May 2016 in Leipzig, Germany, there will be a debate on “Women in transport: Mind the (gender) gap”.

[1]Public transport for the purposes of this study includes all types of public transport services (formal and informal) and includes minibus services, shared taxis etc

[2] http://www.empowerwomen.org/en/circles/freedom-of-movement-and-womens-economic-empowerment/womens-mobility-in-public-places#sthash.hxTe17sT.dpuf

This post is jointly published with OECD Insights.