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Source: Public Sector Executive Sept/Oct 2012

A new integrated package of transport improvements and personalised travel tools aims to encourage people in York out of their cars and onto bikes, public transport, and other more sustainable forms of transport. PSE talks to Graham Titchener, programme manager for the i-Travel scheme, transport leader Cllr Dave Merrett, and head of York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Susie Cawood.

The City of York has secured £4.65m from the DfT’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) for its i-Travel programme to improve transport and cut congestion in the city.

The core of the new programme is not about digging up the streets or buying fleets of new buses, but rather attempting to shift people’s behaviour in more subtle ways: through web tools, better marketing of the variety of transport methods available to get into and around the city, and journey planning advice.

The city already has some enviable sustainable transport credentials: a very successful park and ride scheme and a big jump in cycling during and since the 2008- 2011 ‘Cycling City York’ initiative, from about 10% of the population cycling to a figure now in the mid-20%s, according to Graham Titchener, who led both that initiative and now this new one. DfT figures suggest that York is highly-placed in the cycling ‘league table’, behind only London, Oxford and Cambridge.

Titchener, a former civil servant at a number of central government departments, told PSE he agreed with the DfT emphasis on revenue over capital spending in Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) bids. York’s breaks down to about 54% revenue to 46% capital, he said.

“A lot of the revenue spending is around education awareness, promotion and marketing, but also creating opportunities for people to use these tools to make that modal choice, through general and direct targeting of groups and the general public.

“We’re using a combination of tactics, such as personalised travel planning and marketing communications.”

Bus route maps and cycling maps will be coming through people’s doors, and a new website has been launched with simple travel information, advice and journey planning.

While the site heavily promotes walking, cycling, and buses, it is not anti-car as such: instead, it emphasises using cars more sustainably, for example through car sharing with friends or colleagues, or switching to a greener car – especially an electric one. It also suggests that car users consider one of the city’s park and ride schemes.

A hectoring approach tends not to work, Titchener said. “People don’t want to be told what to do and nor should they: it’s about informed personal choice. We’re saying, look, we’ve got a problem – here’s the stats – and at the end of the day, it’s a two-way street. The council are saying the same thing, businesses are saying the same thing, the public are saying the same thing. There’s an awful lot of the population already cycling, walking, using the bus, so it’s about developing that culture.”

Cllr Dave Merrett, who is York’s cabinet member for transport and sustainability, told PSE: “York’s an historic city with a very constrained network with high levels of congestion that is deteriorating in quality, so it’s absolutely vital that we find better ways for people to get around. We’re working very hard to persuade people, through this travel initiative, to do more of their journeys by the green modes – walking, cycling, and/or public transport where they can, in order to tackle that problem.”

Titchener said: “We will help with information, create the opportunities, the tools, and the infrastructure – but then the personal choice, it’s down to the public. That could well be the car, that’s fine, but then there’s ways of driving more efficiently, or choosing lower emission vehicles. This will be targeted at the major employers within York, as well as schools.”

Clearly policies to get people out of their cars and reduce congestion can have unintended consequences – for example, making the car a more attractive proposition for people currently not using it. Similarly, promoting cycling and walking is all well and good, but if it’s bus users rather than car users who make the switch, it all becomes more tenuous.

The important thing, Titchener said, is trying to get cars off the road that don’t need to be there, to make more room for vehicles that do.

Cllr Merrett told us that success, for him, would be real and sustained modal shift over the 30-month life of the scheme.

He added: “We are doing other things in parallel that we hope will strongly support the scheme. So for instance, we’ve got major capital funding for a new park and ride and for a replacement enlarged park and ride on the A59 and the A64.

“We’ve got probably the most successful park and ride service in the country already and we are hoping to significantly transform local bus services in the city.”

He promised better bus service reliability and timings, improved interchange points, and smart ticketing. He said: “We’re hoping for an Oystertype card arrangement from spring 2014 when at the same time we have the new park and rides.”

An earlier collaboration with the city’s major bus operator, First, to introduce tram-like ‘ftr’ buses onto York’s roads ended after six years in March this year. The Labour group, which now runs the city, previously called the buses a “costly disaster”.

But Titchener said the relationship with the First is very good and it supported the LSTF bid.

Asked about a future ‘wish list’ of transport schemes for the city that he’d like to see funded, he said: “We’re quite keen to test electric buses to see how they’d work in York and then maybe take it forward an extra year or two into council funding.

“It’s up to us to manage the road space we’ve got: making certain streets one-way, or closing certain streets off for buses and cycling only. They are debates that we’re having in York and that is publicly known. “There’s a big cry for a ring road here, but that would cost hundreds of millions of pounds to do that, and is not tenable at all.”

A full list of projects funded under the LSTF 2011-15 is available here:

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