Thursday 13 July 2017 saw an afternoon of presentations, conversations, and Post-its in the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. It was a great afternoon.
Thanks so much to the sponsorship of Mark Isherwood AM and to our speakers. They told their stories about how transport, transport technology and excellent connectivity can transform lives and make cities, regions and economies work. Transport is a powerful enabler: enabling policy and service provision in social care, health and economic development.
Wales certainly has some unique transport challenges compared to the UK – some of which could be seen as real opportunities (why do fewer people in Wales hold operator passes?). However the early findings from the ESP Easy Travel Index show huge similarities throughout the UK in what people need from transport; what they say makes connectivity easy. Never forget the importance of access to toilets throughout a whole journey.
Having listened to the speakers, read the Post-it notes on challenges and opportunities facing Wales, and taken part in the conversations over the excellent canapés, there were some common themes emerging from the day. While there was consensus that the mini-cottage pies in shortcrust pastry and lemon meringue pies were the stars of the platter, in transport terms there were other common themes.
Welsh Government has a programme focussed on making communities (i) prosperous and secure; (ii) healthy and active; (iii) ambitious and learning; (iv) united and connected. The common view from the event is that excellent connectivity can help Government make great progress in each of these areas. What’s more, there are some real opportunities to make this a reality: the new Welsh rail franchise process is well underway; there are plans for integrated transport in the Cardiff Bay area; and Welsh concessionary travel is increasingly seen as a core offer throughout Wales.
The challenge will be in making integrated decisions which ensure that the power of transport can be unleashed.
* Land use policy must support connectivity – not hinder it.
* Health and social policy must consider access: locations of hospitals and facilities, opening times of services, physical access arrangements and access to transport services (Health authority transport, community transport, public transport, car parking). It must consider how people get there and the barriers they face. This is even more import with health and social care policy integration. How do we ensure access to services for everyone – people with physical and cognitive disabilities, those living in rural areas? An ageing population certainly changes a lot of things and also represents tremendous opportunities.
* Broadband and 4G (and 5G) policy, roll-out and development are part of making connectivity happen. The funding, roll-out and access to services can make policy work – connectivity in its widest sense.
As there are pressures on public funds, surely coherence of initiatives and policy can save money and get more “bang for the Welsh buck”?
There is certainly lots of good practice around transport. Representatives of the National Entitlement Card Programme Office from Scotland spoke of how they have successfully built a smart platform from the national travel concessionary scheme and young persons’ rewards programme, which is being used to innovate in public and private sector services. Upstream and Life Changes Trust gave real examples of how user-centred technology and dementia friendly communities (of which transport is a key part) can change lives.
How can we harness good practice? There are many “examples”, “initiatives” and “design opportunities”, but how can we ensure that the right people and organisations are around the table to make informed transparent decisions to make change happen? How do we make sure these people and organisations have the powers to make their decisions impactful? With transparent and good governance comes confidence in investment, innovation, reduced duplication and agility in policy.
Technology Access and Future-Proofing
Getting the right technology into people’s hands to deliver concessions, discounts and information is essential. It must be available to all. London Councils certainly showed that user-centred design of processes and support can ensure that technology is accessible to all. But how do we ensure that technology is appropriate and fit-for-purpose and remains so over time?
Future-proofing is perhaps a divisive concept: how could we have predicted the Betamax v VHS problem? Especially bearing in mind we’ve moved on even further! You can’t. But you can have the mechanisms in place to work with tech providers, operators, policy makers and user groups to ensure new technology is harnessed (as appropriate). Even better – such dialogue actually fosters innovation: it highlights problems to be solved and solutions waiting to happen. The ‘Golden Nuggets’ will not come from a laboratory. They will come from co-creation and dialogue.
In Wales are we are at a fulcrum: new Assembly powers, new franchise arrangements, an integrative policy agenda. At a global level technology is changing the way we live and the way transport can be accessed and delivered. Society is in constant flux due to demographic change.
Getting the Policy – People – Transport – Technology dialogue and governance right will allow us to look back at this time as a real milestone in mobility in Wales.
Presentations, conversations, and Post-its. 13 July 2017: a good day.
Dr Steve Cassidy