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The fluent human guide to transport

11th March 2021 By Racheal Johnson
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Last month Edinburgh announced that its new transport plan for the city would be based on the concept of “mobility as a service”.

If your reaction to this news is somewhere between “huh?” and “BORING” you’re probably not alone.

“Mobility as a Service” is one of those public policy terms that sounds mind-numbingly dull but is actually pretty revolutionary.

A quick explanation… The way that public transport is currently delivered is very much supplier-driven. Bus and train companies provide services on their terms and if we want to travel from, say, Cleckheaton to Crigglestone we need to research which services will best suit our needs and make sure we’re at the bus stop or train station at the right time to catch them. This isn’t always easy to figure out, not least because different services are provided by different companies and passengers often need to trawl through multiple websites to find the information they need. Even worse, if we miss a connection our plans are often completely scuppered.

In contrast to this one-size-fits-all approach, Mobility as a Service puts individual passengers at the heart of transport services. Using digital technologies (basically a sophisticated app) it allows people to find information about various transport options – buses, trains, taxis, bike hire, car-share and more – in one place, and to book, pay for and access those services on demand. Think of it as like Uber but covering all possible ways of getting from A to B.

Cool eh? So why do policymakers make it sound so tedious?!

Other transport trends that sound boring but are actually brilliant include:

Mobility Hubs

One-stop-shops at busy locations like train stations, where people can access lots of different transport options to suit their needs. They could rent a bike, catch a bus or jump in a taxi, with clear information to help them make the best choice for them easily and painlessly. If you’ve ever visited Bremen or Dresden in Germany, the Flanders region of Belgium or Bergen in Norway, you may well have had first-hand experience of a mobility hub. Cool!

Future Mobility

This refers to new technologies that could transform the way we travel in the not-too-distant future. For those of a certain age, this is the Tomorrow’s World of transport policy. From autonomous (i.e. self-driving) electric vehicles to hyperloops, whizz-bang apps to personalised transport on demand… Catching a bus is going to look very different in years to come and policymakers are planning for these transport innovations now. Very cool!

Active travel

Cycling and walking. Honestly, it takes some serious policy jargon superpowers to make things we’ve been doing since we were toddlers sound complicated and off-putting.

Here at Social, we’re passionate about the power of transport to change people’s lives for the better. We’re privileged to have supported some amazing clients who have compelling visions for the role that transport will play in unlocking the potential of their places.

Indeed, it’s because we’re so passionate about the possibilities that transport innovations open up as we imagine new ways of living, working and playing in a post-COVID world, that we feel it’s time to change the way we talk about transport so that everyone feels inspired and excited about the ways we’ll get about in future.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority is developing a new mass transit system for the region, so what better time to think about how we bring the people and businesses who will benefit most from transport improvements like this with us on the journey?

Here are our thoughts on talking transport in ways that will excite and resonate:

1. Speak fluent human

Transport is one of those areas of public policy that touches everyone’s lives. In pre-COVID times most of us used some form of transport every day. I don’t know about you, but I’m not bothered about “integrated multi-model systems that offer end-to-end journeys”. I just want to get to work or to the shops easily and affordably, and ideally without destroying the planet. The way we talk about transport needs to reflect these everyday realities – and the very real frustration that people feel when transport goes wrong.

2. Tell stories that inspire

Transport schemes are notoriously complex and slow to deliver. For major schemes like HS2 or the aforementioned West Yorkshire mass transit system, which will take years to come to fruition, it’s important to paint a picture of what the future will look like and how our lives will be better as a result. This is where a medium like video really comes into its own, and we love this video about how innovations in glass manufacturing will change our lives. If they can make glass sound exciting (and bear in mind this video has been watched 26million times!) a new 21st Century tram network linking the whole of West Yorkshire should be no problem!

3. Engage, engage, engage

Major infrastructure developments, particularly those funded by the taxpayer, typically come unstuck when local people and stakeholders don’t feel involved in decision-making. This is why open, inclusive and continuous dialogue with communities is critical to the success of new infrastructure schemes. Developments in digital technologies are creating new opportunities for people – particularly young people – to get involved in policy and planning decisions (see our earlier blog post on Jackie Weaver), and in some cases help co-design improvements to ensure they will really work for the people they’re intended to benefit.

4. Build a network of advocates

Through an engagement-led approach, it’s possible to identify potential champions for a scheme and ideally bring them on board them as advocates. Whether it’s through case studies, testimonials or simply offering a counterbalance to vocal social media sceptics, people are usually more receptive to messages delivered by people like them rather than impersonal corporate entities.

If you’d like to have an informal discussion about a transport or infrastructure scheme or other area of public policy, please contact Racheal Johnson or Victoria Starkey in our Leeds team.