The Changing Face of Transport Appraisal
In 2018 the Department for Transport consulted on priorities for a new appraisal and modelling strategy, presenting an ambitious vision for developing appraisal and modelling tools over the next five years.
Formal responses were received from various bodies including transport consultants such as ourselves, Local Authorities, combined authorities to sub-national transport bodies, all of which have an interest in ensuring that guidance enables their schemes to be appraised such that it reflects their policy priorities.
Regularly refreshing the way transport is appraised is essential to provide a robust, flexible and easy to use modelling and appraisal toolkit to inform the critical policy decisions which will be made, particularly in a climate of devolved decision making. Updates are required to address evidence gaps and to appraise a broader range of transport schemes that are coming forward such as shared mobility, smart and integrated ticketing, sustainable, active and inclusive travel and urban realm.
Also, appraisal needs to adapt as we are facing significant uncertainty in the transport sector as a result of changes in travel behaviour that are not fully understood, and the development of new technologies. Current technologies such as mobile phones, social media and high-speed internet have changed how people interact with the world and have the potential to fundamentally change how people travel. Future technologies have the potential to impact travel behaviour further in ways we may not fully understand for decades to come.
There is also a recognition of the role transport plays in economic growth which needs to be encapsulated in transport appraisal and the decision-making process. This is a key priority for devolved authorities, such as Transport for the North, who are seeking to deliver a series of schemes which will bring about transformational change in the economic performance of the north. Previously, the focus was very much concentrated on schemes which delivered traditional transport benefits, most notably journey time and accident savings. Consideration is also given to the environmental benefits such as greenhouse gases, noise and local air quality which can be monetised.
The Department has published the results of the consultation, which includes details of how these issues will be taken forward. Actions of particular note include:
The Department is proposing a series of studies to value other benefits such as local attractiveness, active modes, landscape, life, health and environmental externalities, and customer experience reliability. This will enable a greater variety of schemes to be appraised than is currently possible and a greater proportion of their impacts to be monetised.
In the short term, the Department recognises there is considerable inherent uncertainty around future behavioural and technological developments that needs to be accounted for in strategic forecasts and scheme appraisal. We need to accept this high degree of future uncertainty and ensure uncertainty analysis is provided to decision makers to help them understand it. An ‘uncertainty toolkit’ will be developed over the next two years, which will provide a systematic approach to uncertainty analysis, including its presentation to decision-makers. Consultation showed that respondents used different definitions for “scenarios” which makes it difficult for decision makers to understand the robustness of the appraisal and the robustness of the value for money case. This ‘uncertainty toolkit’ should give practitioners more certainty around the Department’s expectations and encourage users to make the analysis of uncertainty a core part of their appraisal.
As there is a recognition that transport schemes can lead to transformational change (although transport investments alone will not generate transformational change); the Department has recognised that more needs to be done to improve appraisal in this area. Work is ongoing to develop advice on how to capture interdependencies in transport scheme appraisal - both with other transport schemes, and with non-transport interventions, as well as looking at ways to improve appraisal of agglomeration benefits and the use of Supplementary Economic Modelling. It will be interesting to see whether consideration of the wider economic benefits will be part of the core Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) rather than just in an adjusted BCR.
The Department is also encouraging innovation to allow flexibility in appraisal where it is appropriate to do so. At SYSTRA, we innovate to meet our client’s needs, for example we adapted the Active Modes Appraisal Toolkit (AMAT) to include the full benefits for new users as they will be travelling a greater distance than the length of infrastructure provided. This approach has been incorporated in the latest release of AMAT.
The transport planning profession welcomes these proposed changes to scheme appraisal as these will enable a wider range of benefits to be appraised and provide a more robust value for money case for a wider variety of schemes.
In an ever-changing world of transport scheme appraisal, it will be vitally important for transport planning professionals to keep up to date with latest research and guidance to improve their modelling and appraisal techniques as well as understand how to apply the guidance in their specific contexts. We welcome the introduction of an annual TAG conference and training events, as this will enable better quality economic cases to be produced, which will speed up the decision-making process.