Accounting for human decision making in transport choice?

WSP Transport Planning Director Adrian Hames and Head of Future Mobility Giles Perkins explore how the England's Economic Heartland's newly published transport strategy innovates through its approach to understanding the human decisions driving transport choice.  

The 30-year strategy published by England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) sets out a plan to connect people and transform journeys for 5.1 million residents and 280,000 businesses. WSP has been a Delivery Partner, and our work included supporting the development of an Integrated Sustainability Appraisal and helping inform the evidence base for the strategy.

EEH is the latest UK Sub-National Transport body to publish a transport strategy. It is another successful collaboration between devolved political and business leaders to develop a combined strategic and spatial plan for investment in infrastructure and services across a broad geographical area. In this case stretching from Swindon to Cambridgeshire, and Northamptonshire to Hertfordshire.

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Unlocking access to opportunities and needs in the first and last mile

For the transport network to operate effectively, not only do the major modes like trains and buses need to be planned for and invested in. But the journeys to and from these modes via their interchanges - the so called first and last miles - need to be optimised. As part of the evidence base for the Heartland Transport Strategy, we delivered a study for EEH to help their decisions around first mile and last mile mobility solutions.

This involved a People + Place + Connectivity approach rather than traditional approach focussed just on transport mode and movements. We defined places across the geography by population density using the census and used Department for Transport journey time statistics to assess connectivity via different modes to amenities like education, healthcare, retail and leisure facilities. To innovate and differentiate from traditional thinking, we overlaid these two layers with anonymised behavioural data from Experian linked to peoples’ consumer habits across the geography. This helped us create 15 user personas representing different transport users with different behaviours across the Heartland.

By introducing this additional layer of behavioural data to inform outcome benefits, EEH and their local authority partners can now account for and assess human factors around transport choice. For example, they can place greater emphasis on anticipating the value different users place on time, independence, environmental impact, as well as mode factors like the positive benefit to health of active travel modes like walking or cycling.

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Within the Heartland the definition of first and last mile now represents a wider choice of both traditional and emerging and disruptive transport modes. This has resulted in benefits that have informed the strategy, including:

  • A better understanding of the link between land use and transport,
  • A greater understanding of the type of people which make up a locality,
  • The ability to make comparisons between travel behaviour in different localities,
  • Estimating the make up a new development based on an analysis of existing places,
  • Improve understanding of which first and last mile markets are most applicable to a locality.
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England’s Economic Heartland’s transport strategy has the user at its centre. A key part of developing our approach has been the strategic planning of first and last mile journeys, ensuring journeys can be completed by sustainable and active travel when travelling within and across all parts of the region. We asked WSP, with Steer and Fifth Studio, to develop a tool that would allow us to maximise the potential for first last mile solutions: providing firstly better evidence to complement investment decisions and secondly to ensure a quick and effective interpretation of the market potential for different first and last mile travel options in a place. The multidimensional nature of the task made it particularly challenging to represent digitally but, WSP has managed to create an intuitive, visibly-powerful tool
Naomi Green Head of Technical Programme, England's Economic Heartland

A more human centric approach to building back better

COVID-19 and the climate emergency are both driving an urgency in the way that we all think about transport and mobility. Both the opportunity presented by these challenges as well as the urgent need to remain resilient and mitigate against disruption caused by them.  

The EEH strategy has been developed in-line with a target to achieve net zero by no later than 2050, and it underpins a wider strategy to ensure recovery, resilience and growth in a £155bn GVA economy that is driven by high value engineering, science, technology and research.

Our work with EEH is making it easier to identify potential modal shift to more sustainable forms of transport, and helps to provide better assurance of the potential addressable market of first mile and last mile modes, both for local authorities and businesses across the geography. This will lead to more focussed efforts on supporting investment and decision making on infrastructure which is linked to better carbon and health outcomes for users.

Transport and mobility strategies must always focus on people, the day to day activities they undertake and the places they visit. By focussing on human decisions, and then combining this with the harnessing the power and potential of data you can take an evidenced approach to understanding the trends influencing transport.

In turn you help unlock the transformative benefits of mobility to tackle inequality, improve health and wellbeing and address the climate emergency.

Adrian Hames is a Director in WSP’s Transport Planning Team. Giles Perkins leads WSP’s Future Mobility team.

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