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Sustainable Transport for Aberdeen

DescriptionThe research comprised an audit of Aberdeen's existing transport system, the specification of alternative transport strategies and surveys.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateMay 07, 1998
Sustainable Transport for Aberdeen
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No 51
Oscar Faber in association with ERM

Transport has important implications for sustainable development and many local authorities in Scotland are currently working to develop a sustainable transport strategy for their area. In order to assist them in this process, The Scottish Office commissioned research in a case study area - Aberdeen City - to inform the preparation of new guidance. The research comprised an audit of Aberdeen's existing transport system; the specification and testing of alternative transport strategies using an appraisal framework; and surveys of individuals and institutional groups to understand perceptions of sustainability and barriers which may exist in making progress.
Main Findings
  • Aberdeen's transport problems are very typical of other towns and cities - there is a long term trend of increasing car ownership and use which has progressively marginalised the other, more sustainable, modes of walking, cycling and bus.
  • Strategy testing showed that individual transport initiatives rarely resulted in more than a 5% shift in modal share away from the private car. However when initiatives were combined the potential for transfer increased.
  • Testing illustrated the importance of strategies which include both 'carrot' and 'stick' elements. For strategies which incorporated a full range of measures across all modes, car trips were reduced by approximately 25% compared with a 'do minimum' scenario.
  • Social surveys demonstrated that issues of convenience and the quality of travel were more important than cost and time.
  • Change can be achieved on a no-cost or low cost basis through measures which involve the re-allocation of road space away from the car.
  • Developing a sustainable transport system will require a reversal of existing trends and the development of a new travel culture where all parties involved are committed to the process of change.
In September 1996 The Scottish Office, in association with Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council and major public transport operators, commissioned a research study on sustainable transport.

Whilst the study had as its focus the City of Aberdeen, the investigative work undertaken was to have wider application so that other local authorities could draw inferences and determine strategies and policies most appropriate to their own circumstances.

The study envisaged four key areas of work:
  • an audit of Aberdeen's transport system both now and in the future;
  • the development of indicators which could be used to measure progress towards the achievement of sustainable transport policies;
  • the preparation of a guide which would assist Aberdeen City Council in preparing a sustainable transport strategy; and
  • the preparation of a draft general guidance note to assist other local authorities in developing sustainable transport strategies.
In order to address the various issues set out in the study brief, the study included:
  • discussions with local authorities in Scotland and England who were considered to have made progress in the area of sustainable transport;
  • discussions with a selection of Scottish local authorities to understand their perceptions of, and commitment to, sustainable transport;
  • an audit of Aberdeen's existing transport system;
  • the development and testing of an appraisal framework;
  • the specification and testing of alternative strategies; and
  • market research with both individuals and institutional groups to understand their perceptions of sustainability and the barriers which may exist to making progress.
The Concept of Sustainability
Before the analytical work could begin it was necessary to define sustainability and identify those actions or instances which promoted or supported the concept.

The most commonly used and accepted definition of sustainability stems from the Brundtland Report of 1987 which defined sustainable development as:

'......development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'

This definition, suitably amended for specific application in Aberdeen, underpinned all subsequent work on the project.

Meetings with a sample of Scottish local authorities at the outset of the study confirmed their interest and commitment to the concept of sustainability but also highlighted the lack of focused action. Very often, for example, initiatives were being taken but not within the framework of an overall strategy nor in a manner which allowed their impact to be monitored in a meaningful way.

Audit of Aberdeen's Transport System
The audit comprised a number of linked analyses which sought to determine the following:
  • the overall scale and patterns of travel within Aberdeen;
  • trends in travel behaviour;
  • the performance of Aberdeen when compared with other similar towns and cities;
  • likely impacts on accessibility, the economy and environment if the existing trends were to continue unabated.

The results of this work demonstrated that transport problems in Aberdeen were very typical of other towns and cities. There was a long term trend of increasing car ownership and use which had progressively marginalised the other modes of walking, cycling and bus. Even though Aberdeen has relatively high bus usage in comparison with other towns and cities, they had experienced a continuing decline in patronage over many years, a problem which many local authorities face in trying to combat the popularity of the private car.

The audit was conducted in the context of Aberdeen City's recently published draft Transportation Strategy, which sets out by mode a series of targets to be achieved within the next few years. Further work, however, is required to develop the necessary schemes to achieve the strategy objectives.

Strategy Testing
The strategy testing was specifically intended to inform the process of scheme development by identifying the scale of impact associated with different types of initiative. The tests covered seven broad themes as follows:
  • walking and cycling;
  • bus improvement;
  • car restraint;
  • park-and-ride;
  • highway improvements;
  • land use changes;
  • combined strategies.

The strategy testing involved using an existing traffic model available for the City of Aberdeen and combining it with a new representation of the public transport network and an imported mode choice model. These models were used to estimate the modal shift in the morning peak period resulting from a range of different measures. The results of the modelling are intended to be illustrative rather than definitive; moreover, although peak travel is very important, it is a declining proportion of total travel and this had to be taken into account when considering the potential to reduce the overall level of car travel in Aberdeen.

The result of this strategy testing was that, in the main, individual initiatives rarely resulted in more than a 5% shift in modal share away from the private car and typically the impact was much smaller. However, when initiatives were combined this offered the possibility of much greater shifts away from the private car. Table 1 illustrates the scale of impact which could be expected. In each case, the percentage change represents the reduction in car use over the whole modelled area compared with the 'do minimum' scenario ie. a continuation of current trends. The reductions achieved are obviously dependent upon the specific tests applied and reference must therefore be made to the main report to understand the assumptions which underpinned each test.

Table 1. Impact on car usage of different strategies
StrategyPercentage Reduction in Car Use*
Improved walking opportunities in central area1
Improved cycling opportunities to central area8
Improved park-and-ride1
Comprehensive Programme of bus enhancement measures15
Comprehensive Parking Controls6
Fuel Taxation Increases3
Comprehensive Local Authority Strategy26
Comprehensive Local Authority and Central Government Strategy28
* Compared with 'do minimum'.
One clear result of the testing was the importance of strategies which include both 'carrot' and 'stick' elements. For those strategies which incorporated a full range of measures across all modes, car trips were reduced by approximately 25% over their Do-Minimum equivalent at the year 2011. If such reductions could be achieved in reality, then traffic levels would be lower than present day values. What the tests could not convey but which is nevertheless implicit is that the process of change must be both long-term and consistent. The whole basis of the testing was to see how the perceived costs of travel could be incrementally increased in favour of the more sustainable modes and against the private car. Since significant cost changes are required to produce any relative shift in car use it is clear that a variety of levers will be required. Though some of these levers are outwith the control of local government this nevertheless leaves a number of 'carrots' and 'sticks' which can be used effectively as shown in Table 1 above.
Appraisal Frameworks and Indicators
The following strategies were selected for more detailed appraisal from a full list of 20 tests, as they appeared to offer the potential for the greatest benefits in terms of reduced environmental impact, improved modal split and reduced amount of travel. The Future Year (2011) Do Minimum Strategy was also appraised for comparison.
  • Pro Bus Strategy
  • Local Authority Measures with new orbital route
  • Local Authority Measures without new orbital route.
Each strategy was tested against 9 different objectives:
Community objectives
  • Maximising accessibility for the community, in particular maximising access to major employment opportunities;
  • Minimising traffic induced severance and intimidation in the community;
  • Maximising the safety of the transport system.
Economic objectives
  • Facilitating economic development;
  • Maximising the economic performance of the city.
Environmental Objectives
  • Minimising greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Minimising consumption of energy and construction materials;
  • Minimising impact on the natural and cultural heritage;
  • Minimising impacts on local environmental quality.
These objectives and the various measures which described them were subsequently reduced to three indicators for more rapid appraisal of other tests. These indicators were as follows:
  • peak hour modal split;
  • vehicle flows on key links (this could refer to specific roads, sites or areas);
  • new infrastructure.
The results of the 'Do Minimum' appraisal showed that a number of unsustainable trends in Aberdeen's transport system will continue between 1997 and the year 2011 if no significant action is taken. Against this background, each of the 3 'Do Something' strategies tested in the framework, performed well under the 3 headings of community, economy and environment, and provided an indication of what might be achieved using combined strategies.
Social Surveys
A key part of the work was to understand the barriers to reduced car use. As such a number of surveys were undertaken with groups of travellers, different demographic groups and representatives of commerce and industry.

The surveys with the public demonstrated two clear points:

  • that issues of convenience and the quality of travel were generally far more important than cost and time; and
  • that whilst some of the obstacles were broadly similar others were distinctly different.

This second point led to the conclusion that certain groups represented a more legitimate target for concerted action. Examples included peak period commuters, particularly those with a destination in the City Centre.

In terms of institutional barriers to change, the views of commerce were that the levels of economic activity in the City Centre were directly related to car accessibility. For them therefore, guaranteeing existing levels of car accessibility was viewed as a major political priority.

The central conclusion from the interviews with representatives of commerce was that communication was a key in facilitating the required change. Too often commerce felt that it was marginalised or involved too late in the process once decisions had already been made. It is important therefore to involve key opinion formers at the earliest possible stage and encourage them to become part of the plan formulation process.

The overall conclusions from the work were that change can be achieved although any strategy will need to challenge current trends in a comprehensive manner. This relates not only to specific transport initiatives but also involves developing a consensus amongst those affected.

Importantly if progress is to be made this is likely to be on the basis of no-cost or low cost solutions which involve the re-allocation of road space away from the private car. It is also likely to be on the basis of partnership, either formal or informal, between those who are involved in the planning and operation of the transport system. This includes the local authority, bus companies, Scotrail, the Police and even large employers. The pivotal role in all of this is occupied by the local authority who must define the strategy, manage the process and influence others to deliver their part in any overall solution.

Developing a sustainable transport system will require a reversal of existing trends and the development of a new travel culture. Nevertheless, it can be done if all parties involved are committed to the process of change.

"Sustainable Transport for Aberdeen", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, is available priced £10.00. Cheques should be made payable to The Stationery Office and addressed to:

The Stationery Office Bookshop, 71 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9AZ

Telephone: 0131-622 7050, or Fax: 0131-662 7017

This Research Findings may be photocopied, or further copies can be obtained from:

The Scottish Office Central Research Unit
Victoria Quay
Telephone: 0131-244 7560