Triple Access Planning

FUTURES – an introductory podcast

by Glenn Lyons, UWE / Mott MacDonald

Annette and I first started working together in the last century! We were once ‘young professionals’ and part of the Transport Visions Network. Years later we’ve found ourselves taking on the future together again.

I’m delighted to be part of this new podcast from the University of the West of England in which Annette Smith and I reminisce about our shared professional journeys and discuss the creation and use of #FUTURES.

FUTURES is the Future Uncertainty Toolkit for Understanding and Responding to an Evolving Society. Yes folks, a real acronym, not one of those fudged ones for a European project title 😉.

Through my role as Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility, FUTURES was developed to help implement the concept of #decideandprovide. It’s a six stage process for vision-led planning in an uncertain world:

1️⃣ Gearing up – opening minds to the rationale and underlying philosophy of a decide and provide approach

2️⃣ Preferred futures – co-creating an expression of what characterises the preferred future

3️⃣ Opening out – developing a set of plausible scenarios to help expose and embrace uncertainty about the future

4️⃣ Options – generating options (ways) to deliver the preferred future (vision) with cognisance of the uncertainty

5️⃣ Closing down – stress-testing options for their ability to negotiate uncertainty and remain aligned with achieving preferred outcomes

6️⃣ Review – monitoring, reviewing and adapting in an ever-changing world and embedding the approach and underlying philosophy

We launched it in 2019, before COVID-19 plunged us further into deep uncertainty – its relevance has understandably grown since. The FUTURES interactive guide was recently updated and is freely available here.

We use FUTURES and a wide repertoire of futures and foresight techniques to help decision makers in transport and other sectors. It continues to be inspiring to see how people benefit from a ‘thinking and learning together’ approach to the challenges and opportunities we face in this topsy turvy world.

Fancy a listen?

Many thanks to Anna JonesKat Corbett and Roger Morford at UWE for producing the podcast as part of a series to celebrate academia and industry working together.

Triple Access Planning

Have you woken up to the importance of diversity?

Glenn Lyons, UWE Bristol / Mott MacDonald

Imagine cooking an important meal. What matters most – the ingredients or the recipe? Sure, a skilled cook can sometimes work wonders with poor quality ingredients or even come up with a new recipe on the spot if the wrong ingredients are to hand or some are missing. But better surely to have the best ingredients possible – ones that together have the prospect of moving the dish from being tasteless and bland or overpowering and unpalatable to a culinary delight that leaves everyone satisfied when they eat the meal.

Now turn to your professional life and imagine preparing a strategy or engaging on important topics to improve understanding. What matters most – the participants or the process? Isn’t it self-evident that the people involved will be a significant determinant of what emerges? You would think so and yet it seems when it comes to the transport sector (which remains male dominated) we may have problems with ingredients and recipes. We’ve got so used to a diet of heterosexual white men serving up mobility solutions that we seem to have overlooked whether new ingredients and a fresh recipe might be able to serve up something new that pleases more of those who are on the receiving end of the results.

Here’s a test for you – I bet without too much trouble you can find an example of an all-male panel (manel) at a transport event (or one which has one woman with the rest being men). Did you pass that one? OK, how about finding an example of a panel that is rich in diversity in relation to protected characteristics (those being: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation)? Not so easy I’m guessing.

Shouldn’t it be obvious that improving diversity in our engagement enriches the dialogue and outcomes? Diversity reaches further than protected characteristics to also reflect experience, areas of expertise, worldviews, status and so on. In one sense that manel you found is likely to be diverse in some respects, but plainly it could have been much more diverse.

Doesn’t this sound rather woke though – trying to be progressive in relation to identity and race? After all, it’s about having the right expertise involved isn’t it? If that manel has five leading experts on the topic who happen to be men, what’s the problem? It seems startling that this can be a standpoint some would take. Worthy of note is how often it seems this can unconsciously affect how groups of people are convened – manels by accident not by design.

The project Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures has tried to raise such issues – at least in terms of gender – into its consciousness and in turn into its behaviours. Earlier this year our monthly team meeting coincided with International Women’s Day and the topic was discussed. We reflected on our strongly (though not exclusively) white male team composition at proposal stage that lay the foundations for the project. We knew we needed to do better. Along the way we have had some successes in terms of engagement activities where we have consciously sought good gender balance. Diversity brings difference of perspective and insight to light. One simple yet important example was the female voice that highlighted fear of personal security in a systems thinking workshop – a key variable in the transport system and Triple Access System and yet one easily overlooked. From different countries represented in the consortium we noted the following: (i) even if there are national role models, gender representation in the workplace can be low, making it challenging to in turn create diverse project teams; (ii) while the planning profession can be better than transport planning at recognising the importance of diversity, top positions in policymaking are still very male dominated; and (iii) gender equity became more visible in one case nationally when the requirement from the EU to prepare a Gender Equality Plan was addressed. As a group we recognised that generational chance offers signs of encouragement for equality but just before our team meeting, the Secretary General of the UN had noted that “On the current track, UN puts gender equality 300 years away”.

There is much to do globally but surely as professionals we can make a much more concerted effort to do better. As a minimum let’s call out those panels and discussion sessions where diversity is conspicuous by its absence. Let’s try and be more consciously competent when we are in positions of organising engagement activities so that more richness of human diversity is part of the dialogue and in turn helping to shape better outcomes. If we want better planning and better planning outcomes then we need to pay more attention to the planning ingredients.

Triple Access Planning

A citizen-centred conversation about the future of triple access

Glenn Lyons, UWE Bristol / Mott MacDonald

Within the TAP project, Mott MacDonald has been helping us explore with academics and practitioners how Triple Access Planning can be applied through an online interactive workshop called the FUTURES Relay. FUTURES is a six-stage vision-led approach to strategic planning for an uncertain world developed by Mott MacDonald and UWE Bristol. The Relay workshop allows people to get hands-on experience of this six-stage process. We wanted to use the Relay to engage with citizens of an urban area about Triple Access Planning and ways that transport, location and online access shape urban living.

We are now pleased to make available the report from the FUTURES Relay run earlier this year by Mott MacDonald and UWE with 30 citizens of Bristol in the UK.

While the FUTURES Relay has been run for cities around the world, Bristol (UK) is the first city in which the process has been trialled with citizens. The two-part workshop took place in March 2023 over two Saturday mornings. The facilitation team tailored the content of the Relay to a non-professional audience and sought to be as inclusive as possible within the confines of the online format. The opportunity to take part was promoted through an announcement in Bristol City Council’s fortnightly mailer “Ask Bristol” and a thank you voucher was offered to those taking part.

Bristol is a middle-sized city (472,400 residents) with a high level of diversity (at least 91 languages are spoken). Walking and cycling are used by respectively 20% and 18% of the commuters. The transport system is also characterised by traffic-related concerns – over 70% of citizens perceive traffic as a problem in their area, and the deprived areas are also those with highest risk of road trauma.

The 30 participants involved included a range of age groups, from 18-29 (eight participants) to 80+ (one participant, and six aged 70-79) and included four participants self-identifying as disabled. Participants were mostly drawn in by a desire to help contribute to change and make sure others’ voices are considered, especially those of older and disabled people.

Our report presents the ways the FUTURES Relay was adapted and applied to foster a conversation with citizens, an overview of participants’ very rich contributions to the six stages of the FUTURES Relay, and participants’ feedback on the workshop.

Two key factors affecting developments in the city were identified from participants’ inputs: the consistency of the political agenda and the extent to which citizens themselves are willing (or able) to embrace social change. Both were characterised by high importance and uncertainty. Identifying a deliverable vision for change in urban mobility is not easy, especially in the face of uncertainty. Approaches such as FUTURES – for professionals and citizens alike – allow this challenge to be addressed through shared thinking, diversity of perspective and structured engagement. It was notable during the two parts of the workshop that while encouragement had been given for participants to explore future change from a ‘triple access’ perspective, much less was said in the discussions concerning the role of digital accessibility. This has also been noted within similar engagement with professionals. It seems that while forms of digital accessibility are increasingly pervasive across society and influencing our patterns of activity and travel needs, it can be hard to bring them into the conversation when minds are naturally drawn to considering transport itself.

Citizen engagement is more important than ever, to give a voice to the community affected by change but also to benefit from citizens’ perspectives alongside those from professionals in terms of planning for change for the better. We hope the report and our shared experiences can help other urban transport authorities to implement citizen engagement building on the FUTURES Relay.


Introducing the game

An overview of TAP-SWOT in a BOX to help you decide if you want to play it with colleagues.

Transport planning has traditionally sat within the predict and provide paradigm – focused upon a forecast-led approach to addressing car-centric planning. Triple Access Planning (TAP) sits within the decide and provide paradigm – focused upon a vision-led approach to addressing access-centric planning for an uncertain world.

But what is TAP and how might it translate from a theoretical concept into the reality of how planning is approached in practice? We decided to develop a game to help practitioners learn more about TAP and critically examine its merits from their own perspective.

SWOT analysis is a means of critical examination – allowing the Strengths and Weaknesses of the TAP approach to be considered as well as the Opportunities and Threats of the planning setting into which it could be introduced.

We wanted to consolidate our own understanding of SWOT elements in a way that would in turn allow other practitioners to have their own say in a shared learning environment. The idea of TAP-SWOT in a Box was born.

TAP-SWOT in a BOX is a card game for up to five players (up to four players in the digital version). It can be played by multiple teams simultaneously in the same room or online, making it ideal for workshops and conferences.

The deck of cards has four suits – S, W, O and T with ten cards in each suit. There are also blank ‘joker’ cards for players to introduce new SWOT elements if they wish. The aim of the game is to work as a team of players to prioritise the most important cards until only five cards remain. These constitute the ‘elevator pitch’ of reasoning from the team to their (imaginary) boss to support whether or not they recommend TAP be adopted by the organisation concerned.

An overview of the stages of the game is shown below:

Stage 1 involves an eight-minute presentation explaining TAP. While TAP is a process and way of thinking, it can be imagined as a product you are considering buying. The SWOT elements can be viewed as ‘product reviews’. Stage 2 involves players weighing up all of the product reviews. In Stage 3 further shortlisting is done by the team of players. With the five remaining most important cards, each player then decides whether or not to recommend ‘buying’ TAP (i.e. adopting it as an approach). If multiple teams have played the game simultaneously then views between teams ‘across the market’ can be shared and discussed (Stage 5). Stage 6 is an optional natural addition after the game play time to hold a discussion based upon views prompted by playing the game.

The game typically takes around an hour to run but the tempo can be adjusted to suit the time available.

Players learn more about TAP by playing, they learn from each other and we can all learn from people’s experiences of playing TAP-SWOT in a BOX. Why not give it a go yourself? We have created two versions:

Return to Serious Game homepage


Playing the game face to face

Downloadable resources you need to be able to play the game for yourselves.

The team who created the game had multiple decks of cards professionally printed as waxed playing cards. An example card is shown below:

We have run the game multiple times at conferences and in practitioner workshops, including with transport authorities considering TAP as an approach for developing new Local Transport Plans or Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs).

Unfortunately, we don’t have decks of cards available to order. However, if you are prepared to do some printing and cutting out, you can easily create a deck of cards of your own. We have created a downloadable ‘game pack’. This contains the following:

  • Game cards for printing (and cutting out)
  • Rules card for printing (and cutting out)
  • Game slides and script (a Powerpoint file that you need to use to run the game – starting with the Stage 1 ‘sales pitch’, the script for which is included in the notes pages)
  • Video of the Stage 1 ‘sales’ pitch (this can be played in place of using the first 17 slides of the slide deck above)

Download the game pack (89Mb)

If you have queries about running the game yourself using this pack, please feel free to contact Professor Glenn Lyons at

We would be delighted if you choose to run the game and even more pleased if you are willing to provide feedback from the experience. We have designed a simple feedback form that includes asking you to upload a file with details (possibly photos included) of the final five cards chosen by players (in each game) with their decision cards and some of the reasoning behind.

Have fun!

Not convinced you want to run the game face-to-face using the resources above? Don’t worry, thanks to a wonderful and hardworking team of games technology students at UWE Bristol a digital version of TAP-SWOT in a BOX has been created.

Return to Serious Game homepage


Playing the game online

Download and run a digital version of the game wherever your other players are located.

Not long after we created the game we dreamt about the prospect of it being available as an online game that could be played by teams of people anywhere. Thanks to the MSc Commercial Games Development course at UWE Bristol (supported by UWE’s entrepreneurship hub called The Foundry), our dream came true.

During 2022/23 the TAP-SWOT in a BOX game creators worked as ‘clients’ with a team of games technology students at UWE Bristol (Shreyas Tembhekar, Vason Maitree and Mohit Pundir) who developed a digital version of the game.

This is not as easy as it might sound with attention needed in addressing not only for the look and feel of the online version but also in ensuring it could run technically in a distributed manner.

After many meetings and tests, the online version is available.

To play the game you will need to download the ‘digital game pack’. This is a 250Mb zip file. Each player needs to do this. Once the zip file is downloaded, unzip into a suitable local directory on your computer. Each player then needs to run the file TapSwot.exe. One player creates a game play room which the others can then join.

While the digital version of TAP-SWOT in a BOX includes an internal chat function, we recommend that the team playing the game do so in a Teams or Zoom (or equivalent) session so that they can communicate. Ideally you would each have two monitors available (one to show the game screen and the other to show the Teams/Zoom session). If you only have one monitor the Teams/Zoom session can run in the background so you can speak to one another while you have the game itself on screen.

The game is self-contained and should provide everything you need to play (including an embedded video for Stage 1 of the game which introduces TAP).

Please note:

  • The game does not require installation on your computer – the set of files are unzipped and the .exe file can then be run directly. However, your IT system in your organisation may prohibit doing this or require prior permission to do so. Please check.
  • The game requires an active and consistent internet connection to play and hence any disconnection or network malfunction will directly impact the user experience.
  • Because the game is running online, when it is coupled with a Teams or Zoom session this can slow down your computer. You should find when the game is closed and the Teams/Zoom session ends your computer returns to normal if you have experienced such a slow-down.
  • Your computer’s IP address is used in connecting you to the game but no data is collected or shared with others.
  • The creators of TAP-SWOT in a BOX have all tested the digital version of the game themselves on their computers (covering university, consultancy and public sector work environments). However, we welcome feedback from you regarding your own experience of running this digital version of the game.

Download the digital game pack (250Mb)

If you have queries about running the game using this pack, please feel free to contact Professor Glenn Lyons at

We would be delighted if you choose to run the game and even more pleased if you are willing to provide feedback from the experience. We have designed a simple feedback form that includes asking you to upload a picture of the final five cards and decision cards from the team who has played the game.

Have fun!

Not convinced you want to run the digital version of the game? Don’t worry, we also provides the resources you need to run the game face to face.

Return to Serious Game homepage


SWOT elements

Downloadable summary of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of TAP.

We are conscious that you may not feel you want to play the game but would like to know what the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of Triple Access Planning might be. Or you may have played the game but would also like to have these conveniently summarised.

If so, we are pleased to provide you with a PDF file that tabulates the SWOT elements:

Download the SWOT elements of Triple Access Planning (258Kb)

Please help us spread the word about TAP if you find on balance that it merits being considered and applied as an approach. If you would like to share further comments please contact Professor Glenn Lyons –

Return to Serious Game homepage


Feedback on the game

Read what others have said about the game having played it.

TAP-SWOT in a BOX has already been played multiple times at conferences and in workshops with practitioners. We recognise that before you consider playing yourself, you may wish to know a little more about what others have thought about the game.

Here are some of the quotes from previous game players:

  1. “Enjoyable experience and certainty thought provoking” (Transport Executive, council)
  2. “Very engaging way to describe a difficult concept” (Principal Analyst, local government)
  3. “Brilliant, imaginative and exactly what conferences need” (Behavioural scientist, academia)
  4. “Thanks, well presented, enjoyed the role play scenario played by the presenters” (Senior Transport Planner, consultancy)
  5. It would be interesting to involve those that are not transport professionals (Transport Officer, council)
  6. “Great!” (Senior Transport Planner, national government)
  7. “Nice time pressure for discussions within groups” (Graduate Transport Planner, consultancy)
  8. “I would like to try this with local authority planners” (Lecturer, academia)
  9. “I would like to consider using this in teaching.” (Senior researcher, academia)

Return to Serious Game homepage


Further resources

Other material about TAP-SWOT in a BOX.

We are seeking to publish a paper about TAP-SWOT in a BOX. If and when this is successful the paper will be made available here.

In the meantime, you may also be interested in joining an online ‘community of practice’ for TAP on LinkedIn.

Return to Serious Game homepage

Triple Access Planning

Digital Accessibility in Urban Mobility Planning

Many people across Europe and beyond now take for granted that the digital age is integral to their lives, offering the ability to reach people, goods, employment, services and opportunities through online facilities. Digital accessibility is happening all around us. Yet remarkably when we turn attention to transport planning, urban mobility planning in particular, we seem to largely if not entirely ignore how this will play a part in shaping the future of mobility – mobility derived from where, when and how people engage in economic and social activity.

The project Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures is focused upon how to rethink urban mobility planning through the lens of triple access – physical mobility, spatial proximity and digital connectivity – contributing to how people participate in society. On 23 June we ran a workshop with academics and practitioners within and beyond the project to explore the opportunity, but also challenge, of how to explicitly take advantage of digital accessibility within Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (or ‘Local Transport Plans’ in England). After all, can we afford to ignore the role of digital accessibility when we are looking to transport in urban areas to rapidly reduce its carbon dioxide emissions?

In this article I draw upon the scene setting for the workshop I provided and the insights and conclusions from our discussions. Please share your own views – we all need to work on addressing this if we are to benefit from recasting transport planning as triple access planning.

Digital connectivity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for digital accessibility

There is an important distinction between digital connectivity and digital accessibility. I would explain them as follows. Digital connectivity reflects the availability of digital infrastructure and one or more devices (modes). Digital accessibility reflects being able to use digital connectivity to engage in activities. Digital connectivity is necessary but not sufficient to provide digital accessibility. The latter also relies upon the quality of digital services and digitally-enabled activities available (and affordable), and upon an individual’s competency and preferences when it comes to making use of what is on offer.

There is a complex and evolving set of relationships between digital accessibility and mobility

Pat Mokhtarian and Ilan Salomon have been pioneering scholars in trying to understand how use of telecommunications affects travel. In a 2015 paper called “Transport’s Digital Age Transition” I set out seven different relationships drawing upon Pat and Ilan’s work and that of my own and colleagues. Digital accessibility can:

  • substitute for travel—an activity is undertaken without the individual needing to make a trip
  • stimulate travel—information flows encourage the identification of activities and encounters at remote locations that individuals then choose to travel to (this can sometimes be a second order effect of substitution)
  • supplement travel—increasing levels of access and social participation are experienced without increasing levels of travel
  • redistribute travel—even if the amount of travel does not change at the level of the individual or at the aggregate, when and between which locations travel takes place can be changed
  • improve the efficiency of travel—data and information flows can enhance the operation and use of the transport system (commonly considered under the heading of ‘intelligent transport systems’)
  • enrich travel—whereby opportunities to make worthwhile use of time while travelling are enhanced, helping generate a “positive utility”
  • indirectly affect travel—technologies can enable or encourage changes to social practices and locational decisions over time that in turn influence the nature and extent of travel

The problem is that within society and across individuals and their activities all of these relationships are at play. The relationships are also changing over time as digital connectivity and accessibility have evolved (dramatically). In 2000 the UK Government published its Ten Year Plan for transport. In this it observed that “[t]he likely effects of increasing internet use on transport and work patterns are still uncertain, but potentially profound, and will need to be monitored closely”. I wrote about this in my 2002 paper “INTERNET – Investigating New Technology’s Evolving Role, Nature and Effects on Transport” (good acronym, eh?!). Unfortunately, to my mind while the effects have proved to be profound, we didn’t really monitor them closely, or at least seek to make sense of them or what they might mean for transport planning.

Digital opportunities have grown considerably and permeated into our lives

It is worth reminding ourselves that while the transport sector often gets hyped up about revolutionary change that in practice seems slow to then materialise, the digital age has shown dramatic change. In 2000 just over of a quarter of the UK population had Internet access. But it wasn’t the access we know today that is heading towards Gigabit connectivity and 5G. It was access through a 56k modem. To have downloaded an HD movie (if the opportunity even existed) would have taken some 30 hours – yet 5G promises the opportunity to do that in a few seconds. Remarkable – so allow your imagination to contemplate what change we might see over the next 20 years, a period over which urban mobility plans being developed now may apply. How can we ignore digital accessibility in such plans?!

According to the Office for National Statistics, immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic, the following was observed in Britain:

  • 96% of households had internet access
  • 76% of adults had used internet banking
  • 87% of adults had shopped online
  • 18% of adults in Great Britain used internet-connected energy or lighting controls

And during 2019 in Britain (ONS):

  • 87% of adults used the internet daily or almost every day
  • the percentage of adults who make video or voice calls over the internet had more than trebled over the past decade reaching 50%
  • 84% of adults had used the internet ‘on the go’

According to Ofcom, in 2020:

  • the average time per adult spent online was 3.5 hours per day (excluding the average 1 hour 20 minutes also spent watching online services on TV sets)
  • the NHS online service was used by 22.5 million UK adults in March 2020 as the country entered lockdown

Such statistics don’t seem particularly remarkable now – but imagine being presented with them in 2000 as a forecast of the future – it would have been possibly quite shocking, even moreso if someone had been able to explain the sophistication of the devices and services that would be available in 2022.

COVID-19 arrived and changed our lives forever, amplifying the place of digital accessibility

The world changed forever when the pandemic spread across the world. In 2019 it would have sounded far fetched to suggest huge parts of the workforce would be working from home full-time with business travel, especially international travel, replaced by online Teams and Zoom meetings, workshops and conferences. Yet now in 2022 we have become accustomed to this being part of working life, even if some are hankering after the ‘good old days’ of co-presence in the office and hypermobility in order to wheel and deal face-to-face in different parts of the country and beyond. What we are now being exposed to is coming to terms with the distinction between what we are able to do through digital accessibility versus what we want to do (or bosses want us to do). Surveys conducted during the pandemic offered some insights into how COVID-19 changed how we worked as well as what prospects in terms of preferences for future working practices.

Don’t be too quick to cast off digital accessibility as second best – it may be (becoming) superior

Of course some people will want to suggest that while digital accessibility was OK to rely upon during the pandemic, it wasn’t a match for face-to-face working. Well, this may be true for some people some of the time. But cast your mind back to some of the ‘old’ meetings you may have spent a good part of your working life attending. How productive were they really? Assuming suitable equipment and a suitable home office environment are available, ask yourself – isn’t the digitally accessible meeting sometimes, if not often, more flexible, productive, and perhaps even more engaging?

And if this is what digital working looks and feels like now, imagine how much more it might further evolve in the coming years and decades. How laughable it might seem that knowledge workers once trundled in metal boxes to ‘work factories’ and then trundled home again? Imagine if we were narrow minded enough to plan the future through only a transport lens.

The future is uncertain in terms of what forms digital accessibility will take

In 2010 I visited Hewlett Packard Laboratories next to my university campus to have a demonstration of their Halo videoconferencing facility. Complete with high quality screens, dedicated fibreoptic network connectivity and high-quality sound it was possible to create a boardroom for people near and far to be together. It seemed to me like a glimpse of the future – but one that might take some time to be available to the masses. Jump forward to 2022 and it’s quite different. So, is 2022 a good guide to digital connectivity and accessibility of the future, or will it be all change again? This is why accommodating uncertainty must also now be part of urban mobility planning, as well as thinking through a triple-access lens.

There are only weak signals about incorporating digital accessibility into urban mobility planning

While its plain that digital accessibility is here to stay and set to become an ever more integral part of our lives in the future, it’s far from clear that much if any attention is being paid to whether and how digital accessibility could be addressed in urban mobility planning. Perhaps transport planners have not seen it as part of their remit? Perhaps it had been put in the ‘too difficult box’? It is certainly true that it is very difficult to make sense of the systemic level of change attributable to digital accessibility change and take-up – and this may not change any time soon given the dynamics involved, the state of flux in society and the fact that making sense of digital accessibility is yet another wicked problem in society.

It is ironic, however, that transport planning orthodoxy seems to remain blissfully unaware of the complexity and dynamics of the Triple Access System – in which the transport system exists – as it merrily continues to put stock in road traffic forecasts and maintain a narrow lens focused primarily on the transport system, with some consideration of the land use system and virtually (ha, ha!) no consideration of the telecommunications system.

It may be important to apply how we judge mobility to how we judge digital accessibility

There are obvious parallels between the transport system and the telecommunications system: (i) roads provide the opportunity to move from one location to another, just as the Internet does; (ii) modes of transport provide the means of using the infrastructure, just as digital devices from smart phones to desktop PCs do; (iii) financial and educational means are needed to afford, and know how, to use modes of transport, as they are for digital devices; and (iv) movement between one location and another is derived from the appeal and suitability of the activities being reached, which applies whether these are face-to-face or digital remotely accessed activities.

When it comes to mobility, England’s National Travel Survey (in common with other such national surveys) refers to a series of journey purposes which in effect reflect the array of activities for which access is needed:

  • Commuting
  • Business
  • Education
  • Escort education
  • Shopping
  • Other escort
  • Personal business
  • Visiting friends at private home
  • Visiting friends elsewhere
  • Entertainment / public activity
  • Sport: participate
  • Holiday: base
  • Day trip

For many of these it is apparent that digital accessibility now has a well-established place.

One can suggest that we should be asking ourselves in light of the comparison between mobility and digital accessibility, why aren’t transport planners doing more to incorporate digital connectivity (information and communications technologies – ICTs) and digital accessibility into our representation of behaviours we are looking to support and shape with our planning?

I prepared the diagram below (inspired by similar thinking from Pat Mokhtarian) in work I led for the New Zealand Ministry of Transport in 2014 when we conceived of the need for a ‘decide and provide’ paradigm in transport planning, centred upon the Triple Access System. It aims to remind us (as Pat’s work did) that we need to have in mind how the absolute amount of mobility (as Pat considered) and accessibility (as I’ve considered below by adding ICTs) and how the relative amount change over time. It is important for urban mobility planning to recognise that while society’s overall need for accessibility may grow over time, the same need not be true for physical mobility – especially motorised mobility. It is possible to conceive of maintaining or reducing motorised mobility while increasing overall accessibility. A neat example given in our workshop was how watching sporting events used to require physical presence at the venue whereas, thanks to television, such sporting events have been made accessible to countless millions as opposed to a few thousand.

Growth in digital accessibility has not been motivated by interest in travel demand management

It is possible to point to examples of where digital accessibility is helping to ease demands placed upon the transport system. Digital healthcare appointments are becoming more mainstream. Online grocery shopping of course still generates delivery trips but removes shoppers’ trips to retail centres. Digital meeting and workshop services and tools enable meetings to take place without travel. Broadband providers, offering digital connectivity, underpin all of this. However, such mechanisms have motives beyond an interest in helping ease pressure on the transport system (even if they have that motive at all). Often the motive is profit, service efficiency, economic prosperity etc. This is quite rational but it should not preclude recognising that in pursuing other motives, the consequence for transport planning of digital services provision can often be behaviour change dynamics that offer the possibility to reduce motorised transport. I say ‘possibility’ here because it depends upon how the benefits are locked in, such that motorised mobility does not pop up in other forms as a rebound effect. Sometimes at a local level, digitally-related services are indeed being provided with the direct interest in addressing people’s reliance on transport in mind – local co-working hubs being a good example. Indeed, for rural areas moreso than urban areas, such provision of support for digital accessibility may be more appropriate, cost-effective, and socially and economically beneficial compared to investment in the transport system itself.

Barriers to greater uptake of digital accessibility and reduction in motorised travel go beyond technology

For many middle-class knowledge workers it may seem rather intuitive and natural to turn attention to taking advantage of digital accessibility, as many did during the pandemic. However, for many others they may either not enjoy the availability of the same choice set for their behaviours, or may not be conscious of how their choice set has changed. If familiar behaviours continue to serve their purpose in a satisfactory way (e.g. driving to work) then habits can endure. Individuals become entrenched in particular patterns of behaviour. These are normalised socially for example in relation to the nature of work. It took the pandemic to really shake up the working world and expose many people to the unfamiliar but potentially eminently suitable and attractive option of working from home – an option that was in their choice set (employers’ and managers’ views permitting) they just hadn’t really considered it, or felt able to. For other people the technological means may not exist to be able to take advantage of some forms of digital accessibility. However, it may also be the case that they do have the technological means (or could afford to have it) but haven’t been afforded the digital literacy, skills and familiarity to be able to take advantage of the digital opportunities on offer.

Frankly, another obstacle to overcoming such issues as those above is that planners and policymakers are devoting far more attention to meeting people’s needs for access through physical mobility than they are through digital accessibility. In one of our European partner countries in our project it was suggested that there was a team in national government of around 100 professions working on digital developments compared to some 9000 working on transport developments.

We can embrace digital accessibility in urban mobility planning without fully understanding it

Exploring the prospects of digital accessibility, as noted above, can reveal it as a wicked problem in light of differences in interpretation, lack of evidence and understanding of cause and effect, and complex interactions that is has with other aspects of an urban system. It would be all too easy (especially with the ‘forecast-led’ predict and provide mindset in the transport sector) to forego a need to give serious attention to accounting for digital accessibility in urban mobility planning. This would be a grave mistake at this point in time – a point in time when we recognise the severity of the climate emergency and a need to rapidly decarbonise our economy, notably our transport system and its use.

Thankfully, the decide and provide paradigm is different – provided that its new philosophy – way of thinking – is embraced. This is about supply-led demand rather than demand-led supply. This was set out in my paper with Cody Davidson in 2016 – “Guidance for transport planning and policymaking in the face of an uncertain future”. We do not need to fully understand cause and effect, to be able to model the effects of change in supply on changing demand, in order to shape a better future. Consider this broad proposition:

  • We need to create a sensible balance of physical mobility, spatial proximity and digital connectivity to meet society’s access needs while creating liveable places, assuring economic and social wellbeing and addressing climate change.
  • Such balance is created by considering transport, land use and telecommunications supply.
  • We may take a view that we do not need any more highway capacity for private cars than we already have.
  • We may take a view in turn that any new infrastructure provision should focus upon supporting active travel and shared motorised transport, and that such new provision will come from some reallocation of roadspace away from the private car.
  • We may then recognise the importance of ensuring everyone in society has a minimum level of opportunity to enjoy the benefits of digital accessibility which means addressing digital connectivity (and its affordability) as well as addressing digital literacy – and actively raising public awareness of the enriched choice set they can have at their disposal in terms of forms of access.
  • We may assume that by determining a clear way forward for transport system capacity, and digital opportunity, that people and businesses will respond in an adaptive way in terms of locational decisions and wider behaviours (including innovations from transport service providers, digitally accessible service providers, and developers).
  • In this way, the demand is left to respond to the supply on offer – choice remains but is bounded by supply-side system conditions.
  • This is what the vision-led approach of decide and provide is all about – it is then important to continuously monitor how patterns of behaviour are changing and to be ready to adapt investments and interventions to help ensure fairness in overall accessibility provision and to help mitigate unanticipated and undesirable consequences.

This surely offers a proposition worthy of consideration in the times we are living in? Is it not a tempting foundation for improving urban mobility planning? If not, then what is the alternative because digital accessibility is increasingly pervasive in society and if planning is about shaping a system to be fit for the future it cannot do so in ignorance of the fundamental building blocks of that Triple Access System.

Glenn Lyons is the Mott MacDonald professor of future mobility at UWE Bristol, and the coordinator for the project Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures.