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We’re consulting on Smarter Choices

Sian Berry's picture

13 July 2012: Send us your evidence for the benefits of smarter travel initiatives.

The Department for Transport (DfT) publishes a set of detailed methods called 'WebTAG' for how local authorities and other bodies appraise potential transport initiatives. In this case, 'appraise' means a process of estimating the strategic value and the costs and benefits of a planned project  to check it is worth doing and, most importantly, that it's worth spending money on. WebTAG has a range of units, each covering different parts of the appraisal process and different types of interventions and it's regularly updated by the DfT.

Smarter Choices marketing Smarter Choices initiatives, which combine a range of different measures into a concerted plan to promote and improve facilities for sustainable travel, are now a well-established way of cutting traffic and getting people on more buses, trains, bikes and walks. The Sustainable Travel Towns programme from 2004 to 2009 proved that for a relatively small cost, car trips can be cut by 10%, and many similar recent initiatives - from simple travel plans to car clubs, cycle lanes and interactive bus apps - have also helped to increase sustainable travel in towns and cities around the UK.

Despite this, when the DfT published a new draft WebTAG unit late last year containing guidance for the appraisal of Smarter Choices, the text was very pessimistic about the possible effects of these programmes, suggesting wrongly that there was a lack of evidence and failing to emphasise the 'package effect' of implementing a range of measures all at once.

To help improve the draft unit, Campaign for Better Transport helped to arrange a meeting between DfT officials and a group of experts in the field of Smarter Choices and, afterwards, the group submitted some suggested amendments.

Because of this, we were all very disappointed when the Department's new draft, published this May, only contained a small number of changes and still maintained a rather gloomy view of the benefits.

That’s why we’ve published an alternative draft WebTAG unit on Smarter Choices this week and launched a consultation to see what else we can do to improve it.

If you work for a local authority, a school, a workplace or group of workplaces, or any other body that’s implemented travel planning, information, new services or infrastructure projects for sustainable travel - and if you have evidence for how well it all worked - we want to hear from you over the next three months.

Similarly, if you’re a transport planner or consultant and have new data or new methods you can share with us to help improve the appraisal process, get in touch. We’ll be collecting all your evidence together with the aim of publishing a more polished alternative draft later this year.

We hope this will prove a constructive process. The DfT has welcomed the initiative and also wants to hear your views so they can look again at their official unit.

Ultimately, what we want most is to help transport professionals evaluate the potential of Smarter Choices more accurately, see the value for money these initiatives represent and put them much more firmly in the front line of the options that towns and cities choose to improve transport in their areas.

Read our alternative WebTAG unit and respond to our consultation here: