Smart, the future of sustainable travel?

I'm writing this blog during strange times. A large proportion of the population is social distancing. As a result of this, there are far fewer journeys being made, especially by car.

Here in the Forest of Dean, we struggle with our main arterial routes at Monmouth, Gloucester, and Chepstow. To demonstrate how much traffic has plunged from normal levels, have a look at the March air quality graphs for Chepstow. The area has finally, just, dipped under the safe levels for air pollution. Can you spot the week when the UK went into lockdown? Although air quality data isn't available from Monmouth and Gloucester, we know that there aren't the traffic jams and hold-ups in these areas.


Chepstow Average NOx March 2020

Chepstow Average NOx March 2020


What we've learnt from this is that for no investment in infrastructure or services, the only way to improve air quality is to reduce vehicle use massively. Unfortunately, at the moment, that is because the economy is basically on hold. Getting me back to the topic of this blog, which is the future of Sustainable Travel. Firstly, the world is waking up to the potential benefits of working from home; this isn't an option for many people but could reduce the overall travel requirement.

How do we provide a genuinely sustainable travel solution for the Forest? Let's address what we mean by "sustainable". I mean, it's at the right price, is financially viable, it's efficient and clean, and finally, it's there when people need it and flexible to their needs.

How do we achieve this transportation "nirvana"? Our current situation is pretty dire. And why? Because data does not drive our transport planning. It is driven by history, campaigning and guesswork.

At the Forest Economic Partnership, we're committed to promoting the best outcomes for the district; we've been researching a model called "Mobility as a Service" (FEP MaaS Project), in English "Smart Travel". Smart Travel collects data on how people travel, and then create commercial solutions to meet that. These services might be buses, trains, community transport, taxis, lift-share, cycling, or walking. More importantly, they might be a combination of different providers, like a taxi from your village, collecting people along the way, and meeting a bus at a specific stop. The objective is to provide people with travel when they want it. Fill empty seats on public transport (so its financially viable), and get everyone to where there want for less cost than a car journey.

David Trevelyan, Director, Lead for Digital Connectivity

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