Commuting practices: Time, space and implications for modal shift

Moel Cass and James Faulconbridge made a presentation at the 2014 RGS-IGB conference in London.  The presentation looked at the ‘practice’ of commuting and suggested the need for policy to:

  • address the structural barriers caused by the lack of availability of the elements that constitute bus- and cycle-commuting, and
  • intervene in the timing and spatiality of a range of social practices to reduce the tendency for commutes to have spatial and temporal characteristics that militate against the use of bus and cycle modes.

The presentation can be downloaded here:

Bridge Closure Evaluation

Professor Greg Marsden and Jeremy Shires led an independent evaluation of a trial closure of a key river crossing in York for the City of York Council. The closure banned private cars from using the bridge between 10am in the morning and 5pm at night but was removed at the end of the six month period because of complaints from local residents and businesses. The project evaluation report and the council deliberations can be found here:

Restricted Access

Restricted Access

The scheme was opening up the route from York Railway Station to the famous York Minster and the pedestrianized shopping areas of York. It forms part of the walls of York and has historic buildings fronting on to the road. The Council were hoping this would improve the environment for pedestrians and cyclists as well as allowing bus reliability to be improved.

Traffic blocking back before the trial

Traffic blocking back before the trial

The impacts of the trial were significant increases in walking and cycling along the bridge. Our surveys showed just how important the local environment was as a reason to visit York. There were some important traffic diversions which created additional congestion on other parts of an already busy network.

This is where the nature of the trial becomes important. Unlike the Stockholm Congestion Charge, no improvements were built in to the trial scheme. Bus companies were not prepared to adapt their timetables in the short run and capacity enhancements at pinch points or pedestrian improvements were not put in place. The outcome of the trial perhaps not wanting to be seen to be pre-judged.

There was significant local objection from those residents directly affected by needing to reroute. These were however a small proportion of total trips in the city. The scheme really unraveled because of a very large number of penalty charge notices – up to 4500 a week. The scheme has a surplus of in the region of £750k which was not the intention. A key reason for this was tourists and visitors to the city. Although the restriction was signed, it was not clear to non-residents what that meant. Sat Nav companies were not prepared to reprogramme their software for a temporary time of day closure and so large numbers of people were being caught. The advice the Council received was to issue fines through the number plate recognition software it had. This is in contrast to the introduction of the HOV 2+ lane in Leeds in the 1990s where warning letters were issued for the first few weeks. The Council subsequently received advice that it would be OK to soften the enforcement somewhat but this was too late. The damage was done and the business community support lost.

There is a hypothesis in transport that trialling things helps to overcome objections and fear of change. To a degree that is true here. The re-routing of the traffic did not cause chaos, most people were able to adapt and there were signs of a shift to more sustainable modes as intentioned. However, trials are also a window of opportunity for lobbying and where implementation difficulties can be exploited. Timing may also be a factor, as we are approaching a round of elections in the coming year so there is comparatively little political time for the project to bed in. Either way, we need a more nuanced understanding of the role of trials within implementation and we need to consider the implications for future trials (for example of Sat Nav companies not wishing to comply).

The Lendal Bridge scheme to me is fundamentally a good idea and indicative of the progressive thinking in the City of York Council. A traffic commission has been established to look at future options. York anticipates a 40%+ rise in traffic levels by 2031, only half of which it thinks can be encouraged to bus and bike. Something else needs to be done. If an incremental approach such as Lendal Bridge doesn’t work then perhaps yet more radical options need to be on the table. Now there’s an implementation challenge on the back of a bloody nose!

Survey report released

A recent report containing key statistical information from a questionnaire survey of public experiences of travel disruption in the UK can be found below.

Disruption survey report

The survey was administered to 2700 respondents in six regions in the UK and elicited information relating to perceptions and experiences of travel disruption. Amongst the findings, it was found that 1 in 5 people feel that they are severely affected by disruption in their everyday life, and that people generally feel that disruption is something that cannot be anticipated or controlled.

Prof. Greg Marsden presentation at the Sustainable Development Research Network Annual Conference 2014

Prof. Greg Marsden presented the following presentation at the SDRN Annual Conference today (Tuesday 28/01/2014).


The presentation discusses the public’s willingness to change and how this is often under-estimated by policy makers.

For more information on the SDRN conference please go to:

Presentations at Mobility Futures Conference

Last week, Tim and James and Noel made presentations at the Mobility Futures Conference in Lancaster, where the project also sponsored a special session on disruption.

The presentations can be viewed here:

Tim: Disruption  – Inevitability Opportunity Necessity

James and Noel: Mobility (and) practices: identifying the ‘anchors’ of daily (travel) routines  the case of the commute



Paper on disruptions as opportunities for transport policy change

Greg Marsden and IainDocherty have just had a paper published in the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice on “Insights on disruptions as opportunities for transport policy change”.

The paper is open access and can be downloaded for free from:

Marsden, Greg, and Iain Docherty. “Insights on disruptions as opportunities for transport policy change.” Transportation research part A: policy and practice 51 (2013): 46-55. DOI: 10.1016/j.tra.2013.03.004


Policy change is characterised as being slow and incremental over long time periods. In discussing a radical shift to a low carbon economy, many researchers identify a need for a more significant and rapid change to transport policy and travel patterns. However, it is not clear what is meant by rapid policy change and what conditions might be needed to support its delivery.

Our contention in this paper is that notions of habit and stability dominate thinking about transport trends and the policy responses to them. We limit variability in our data collection and seek to design policies and transport systems that broadly support the continuation of existing practices. This framing of the policy context limits the scale of change deemed plausible and the scope of activities and actions that could be used to effect it.

This paper identifies evidence from two sources to support the contention that more radical policy change is possible. First, there is a substantial and on-going churn in household travel behaviour which, harnessed properly over the medium term, could provide the raw material for steering behaviour change. Secondly, there is a growing evidence base analysing significant events at local, regional and national level which highlight how travellers can adapt to major change to network conditions, service availability and social norms. Taken together, we contend that the population is far more adaptable to major change than the policy process currently assumes.

Disruptions and the responses to them provide a window on the range of adaptations that are possible (and, given that we can actually observe people carrying them out, could be more widely acceptable) given the current configuration of the transport system. In other words, if we conceptualise the system as one in which disruptions are commonplace, then different policy choices become tractable. Policy change itself can also be seen as a positive disruption, which could open up a raft of new opportunities to align policy implementation with the capacity for change.

However, when set against the current framing of stability and habit, disruption can also be a major political embarrassment. We conclude that rather than being inherently problematic, disruption are in fact an opportunity through which to construct a different approach to transport policy that might enable rather than frustrate significant, low carbon change.

Disruption Papers USAR and UTSG


Disruption Papers USAR and UTSG

In November 2012 PhD student David Williams presented his paper at the Urban Sustainability and Resilience Conference at UCL London. In January he also presented a second paper at the UTSG conference in Oxford in January 2013. The papers can be downloaded by clicking on the following links below:

Williams, Chatterton and Parkhurst (2012) USAR Paper_UCL

Williams, Chatterton and Parkhurst (2013) UTSG paper_Oxford



Travel Disruption:Three Case Studies

Dr Jo Guiver from the Institute of Travel and Tourism at the University of Central Lancashire has recently completed a report for the Disruption Project relating to three natural disruption events in the United Kingdom:

  • The Volcanic Ash Cloud in April and May 2010;
  • The closure of the road bridges in Workington Cumbria due to flood damage between November 2009 and May 2010; and
  • The severe winter weather across the UK in December 2010.

The report can be downloaded by clicking on the following link: Jo Guiver (2012) Travel Disruption_Three Case Studies.