They’re been around for an age, but the latest child pedestrian casualty figures have helped put the effectiveness of travel plans – school based in particular- into sharp relief.
Travel plans can be developed for schools, companies, individuals or areas. They are essentially tools to reduce the dependency on cars and by consequence can help reduce congestion, relieve parking problems, allow for home working and minimise the impact of travel on the environment.
But the question is: are they worth the paper they are written on? A published international systematic review raises serious concerns about their validity, or at least they way their effectiveness is analysed.
A Cochrane Review looked at 17 studies into travel plans all of which analysed modal shift and one specifically assessed health impacts. The Review’s conclusion was not encouraging:
“Despite widespread implementation, there is insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of organisational travel plans for improving health or changing travel mode.”
Although not an uncommon conclusion for systematic reviews, this finding provides cause for concern. So what is the situation in this country?
Almost ten years on from the publication of the influential DfT report Smarter Choices: Changing the Way We Travel we find that travel planning is used across much of the country. Government White Papers continue to promote ‘enabling good transport choices through ‘nudge’ interventions’ such as travel plans, and in 2010 the Local Sustainable Transport Fund made £560 million available over four years to support travel plans and other sustainable transport initiatives. An analysis of the Sustainable Travel Towns project found that ‘smarter choices’ activities, of which travel planning is one, helped to reduce car driver trips by 9% and car driver mileage by 5-7% in the towns and their surrounding areas.
The Cochrane Review also touched on the impact of travel plans on accidents amongst children, saying that programmes:
“…should be implemented in the context of robustly-designed research studies, accounting for potential adverse effects such as child pedestrian injury.”
This is particularly pertinent given the road casualty stats which came out this week revealed the number of child pedestrians killed or seriously injured in quarter 3 of 2012 was up 8 per cent on the previous year (of course, school holidays would have taken up half of this period).
A 2010 evaluation of school travel plans concluded they had not had a significant effect on the mode share figures for the school run and it was difficult to assess the health benefits in terms of reduced child obesity.
None of this means that travel plans do not work, but does suggest that when we put public money into projects we need to have a better handle on what they achieve. If travel plans are truly delivering transport and sustainability goals, scheme promoters simply must find a better way of expressing the benefits. Taking another decade to do so, would be too long!