A clear ambitious vision for the mobility of workers across Bristol, Bath and the West of England and the need for the business community to come together to support the case for major investment in the public transport system were seen as key to the future success of the city region economy and business sector at the West of England Public Transport Summit.
Enhanced digital connectivity, promotion of active travel through major investment in walking and cycling, as well as the introduction of new innovative approaches to travel were other key factors highlighted to enhance the mobility of the city region’s workforce.
The Summit, organised by Business West Chambers of Commerce with JBP PR & Parliamentary Affairs, was attended by some 150 members of the business community.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, called for a coherent voice which will be supported by a new Bristol Transport Board incorporating representatives across the transport spectrum. Rees also announced that a new bus deal, involving a partnership with First West of England, was imminent, which will significantly increase the frequency of buses throughout the city and include investment in bus prioritisation measures and Park & Rides.
There was consensus that city region employers had a key role to play in attracting investment to support the future mobility needs of workers in the region. Colin Stanbridge, Chief Executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry provided an insight on how the Greater London business community had come together and played a major role in making the case for huge investment from HM Treasury alongside the Mayoral Authority into the capital’s public transport and with massive success.
He said: “We have significant evidence that the business community played a critical role in convincing government of the economic and social case of improving the public transport situation for Greater London.”
Stanbridge also called upon the big UK regional cities, including Bristol & the West of England, to join forces when engaging with government on transport matters as “it is a common issue to all of them”.
He added: “Our major cities such as those in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Teesside need to maximise use of their elected mayors as they are a powerful tool in engaging with central Government.”
David Carter, Director of Infrastructure at the West of England Combined Authority, called for the business community to: “help us tell our story and show Government we are united when it comes to the mobility of our regional population.”
James Durie, Chief Executive of Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative at Business West, said: “It’s crucial that all the business representative groups, including Business West, CBI, Federation of Small Businesses and IOD come together and speak as one on transport in the city region.”
James Freeman, Managing Director of First West of England and Matthew Golton, Commercial Development Director at GWR, both emphasised the need for decisive action on public transport developments to bring improvements sooner rather than later.
Active travel through increased walking and cycling was a key theme throughout the Summit and the role of transport in supporting healthier lives.
Jon Usher, Head of Partnerships at Sustrans, the UK charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle, said: “To successfully develop an active travel network in our region we must have the ambition and the commitment to invest in infrastructure that not only supports people who choose to walk and cycle but makes it the natural choice.
“Designing our cities with cars at their heart must become a thing of the past, the future is active travel and moving in that direction should be our goal. Active travel means healthier employees which in turn supports increased productivity and reduces absenteeism amongst the region’s workforce. We have to aspire to what they have achieved in Denmark and the Netherlands.”
At the heart of the debate was the need to enhance the communications network so that data could help shape future mobility investment decisions. Said Julie Snell, Managing Director, Bristol is Open, a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council, which is delivering research and development initiatives that contribute to the development of a smart city: “We need to invest in digital connectivity as we can use this to understand trends in travel and therefore inform how we shape provision whether that be public transport, cycling lanes or walkways.”
The opportunity afforded by digital transport service platforms that enable users to access, pay for, and get real-time information on, a range of public and private transport options, known as mobility as a service (maas), was highlighted by James Lancaster, Head of Policy at Enterprise Holdings, which is the largest mobility provider in the world with operations that include Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Car Club.
He said: “Clean Air Zones need to act as the foundation phase to delivering mobility as a service, which the Transport Select Committee has called upon the Government to pilot across the country. One initiative we champion is mobility credits, which would be a new type of scrappage scheme, where old high polluting vehicles are exchanged for credits that can be spent on mobility, that includes car hire and club, bike share, bus, rail and cycling. If these were placed on a maas platform then it would support the measures needed to bring down NoX emissions but also enable the innovation to transport on demand that is desperately required.”
At the Summit, Business West also unveiled the findings of its transport survey it had conducted ahead of the event into employers’ views on congestion impact and current public transport provision, which included:
- Lateness is the key impact of congestion according to 70% of businesses interviewed
- 15% of employers said that congestion impacts recruitment and retention
- 80% of businesses want better integration between transport modes
- 60% of businesses say that existing public transport links not suitable for their businesses.