Triple Access Planning

The benefits of TAP approach in planning urban freight distribution

The freight urban transport, finalised to satisfy the demand for goods and services in urban areas, due to:

  • the complexity of the shopping that governs the freight distribution,
  • the high number of actors and decision-makers within the supply-chain with their reciprocal relationships that are nowadays increasingly virtual (digital connectivity),
  • its relevant interactions with the whole urban system (physical mobility),
  • both the structure of residences and the service distribution (spatial proximity),

can be described/represented through the notion of Triple Access System (TAS).

In fact, it is now well known that, in order to identify adequate solutions for the whole urban mobility system, the freight counterpart cannot be neglected. Therefore, to improve the urban freight distribution, it is necessary to investigate the structure and organisation of the whole supply chain that allows user to satisfy his/her needs of acquiring goods (shopping). Since only by focusing on the characteristics of the end consumer, on her/his purchase behaviour (according to the different types of goods and products) and therefore on her/his specific needs to be satisfied, it is possible to understand which is the most suitable way to guarantee this freight distribution, minimising impacts and maximising the effects on the whole urban system. This new perspective therefore means that the issue of urban freight transport and logistics must be addressed by looking at the freight delivering both towards the physical shops (shopping at stores) and directly to end consumer (online shopping including home delivery of different types).

Using, therefore, this new double reading key (at store and online), how can urban freight planning benefit from the Triple Access Planning approach?

  1. Physical Mobility: any freight distribution model cannot obviously disregard an adequate transport system (this is one of the value increases that characterises the whole supply chain): these concern both aspects falling within the competence of transport companies and couriers (e.g. definition of vehicle routing for freight delivering , optimisation of delivery times and of vehicle load), and those falling within the competence of municipalities operating through road management policies and organisation of loading and unloading spaces (delivery bays, time windows, limited traffic zones, etc.). The objective, in this case, is to minimise the effects on traffic flows, especially in terms of distances, land occupation and therefore congestion, road accidents and emissions.
  2. Spatial proximity: if an efficient freight delivery is based on a minimisation of distances between the shipper and the receiver, the new approach proposed here focuses on users’ activity who request goods and benefit from the urban freight delivery system. Indeed, , a large part of the success of shopping at physical shops (but the same applies to pick-up/delivery points – in online shopping systems) is based on the spatial proximity of shops to residences and workplaces (the idea of the “city in 15 minutes” is mainly based on this concept), in order to optimise consumers’ needs while minimising network effects. It is therefore necessary to know the attitudes and decision-making process of the end consumers (who can make purchases both in-store and online) in order to be able to plan the location of shop, residences and workplaces in an integrated way to make this proximity coherent.
  3. Digital connectivity: it is evident how the wide diffusion of ICT systems has totally transformed the shopping chain, introducing online shopping, which was almost non-existent until 20 years ago while now governs a large part of the market, offering delivery models increasingly aimed at satisfying end consumers’ needs (also with deliveries of ready meals, home deliveries of purchases made in physical urban shops). Such systems also have a strong impact on the business of shopping stores as they allow for a better planning of urban delivery systems, optimising flows, and minimising impacts.

From what has been described, therefore, it is evident how the proper planning of the different components of accessibility for the urban freight distribution has a great advantage in implementing the Triple Access Planning approach, since it integrates the three basic and central aspects that characterise the entire shopping activity: spatial proximity, digital connectivity and physical mobility.

Moreover, this approach also makes it possible to better answer to some uncertainty elements due to exogenous and endogenous factors that are typical of urban planning but which, in the case of shopping, are even more evident.

With regard to the former (exogenous factors), the recent pandemic has in fact highlighted how online shopping has been able, albeit temporarily, to best respond to end consumers’ needs during periods of severe crisis and lockdown (user-side access to goods not otherwise available, operator-side reduction of the problems of failed deliveries); furthermore, the current global energy crisis is directing urban distribution more and more towards the use of sustainable and low-consumption vehicles, addressing companies towards forms of consolidation that maximise load capacity for the same number of kilometres travelled (opportunities for telematics to support/foster load sharing and propose new delivery models).

But also referring to the latter, i.e. endogenous factors, the issue of uncertainty appears to be central: in urban freight transport, in fact, unlike passengers’ transport, the number of decision-makers increase, and thus so does the uncertainty due to their behaviours and decisions. In addition to municipalities, transport companies and citizens/end-consumers (decision-makers in passengers’ transport), in the case of shopping there are also retailers who have strong specific needs and objectives to pursue, often diverging and conflicting with at least one of the other three decision-making categories, with a subsequent increase of the level of uncertainty in the decision-making processes.

Added to this, there are other levels of uncertainty typical of shopping, such as, for example, the influence of marketing (especially in the launch of new products unknown to the market), the trend of fashions and customer habits (globalised but often fluctuating with respect to factors that are difficult to predict), the globalisation of production (we are in a single large global market), the trend of stock exchanges that influence the price level of certain primary goods, etc.

It is therefore evident that in the face of these aspects, the Triple Access System approach appears more suitable for analysing and adequately describing urban freight transport planning processes, as it allows, at the best way, the integration of the aspects that characterise it, helps to minimise the risks determined by uncertainties, and therefore permits more resilient and sustainable actions to be proposed.

Gianfranco Fancello is Associate Professor at Università degli studi di Cagliari, and member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures team.

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.

Triple Access Planning

Transport policymaking under (deep) uncertainty: new knowledge or think differently?

Urban transport is facing an increasing number of problems. Increasing urbanization, lifestyle changes, and growing use of the private car, have placed the mobility of persons and transportation of goods under pressure in many cities. Traditional policies, including new infrastructures, park-and-ride facilities, improved public transport, road pricing, time-frames for goods delivery, etc., seem insufficient to handle this pressure. Innovative solutions have been proposed to improve traffic performance (e.g. intelligent vehicles, automated goods transport), travel decisions (e.g. Mobility as a Service, advanced travel info), and activity behavior (e.g. mobility hubs, e-shops, teleworking). The implementation of these solutions, however, is surrounded by many uncertainties regarding external developments (e.g., technological progress, economic developments, climate change, demographic developments), the possible consequences of these developments for urban transportation system performance (e.g., impacts on traffic flows, safety, the environment), and the way crucial stakeholders will value these consequences (e.g., changing preferences leading to different modal choices).

The question is how to deal with these uncertainties. Traditional approaches, based on advanced modeling and impact assessment, are not capable to handle future trend breaks very well.  Future times do require a radically different way of thinking. The question is how to arrive at good decisions under deeply uncertain conditions? We still base most policy on the principle of Predict and Act; you try to predict roughly what the future will look like, for example by specifying a limited number of plausible scenarios. Based on this, you specify a  policy or take certain measures that work relatively well for all scenarios. But we’ve come to the point where we simply don’t know what the future holds and what the consequences will be. Think about climate change. The speed of climate change is controversial, but there is also a lot of discussion among scientists about the possible consequences. Even with traditional scenario approaches, you cannot act on that adequately. Therefore, a different way of thinking is required, called Prepare and Adapt.

The basic concept of Prepare and Adapt is easy to explain. It is analogous to the approach used in guiding a ship through a long ocean voyage. The goal – the end point – is set at the beginning of the journey. But, along the way, unpredictable storms and other traffic may interfere with the original trajectory. So, the policy – the specific route – is changed along the way. It is understood before the ship leaves port that some changes are likely to take place – and contingency plans may have already been formulated for some of the unpredictable events. The important thing is that the ultimate goal remains unchanged, and the policy actions implemented over time remain directed toward that goal (if the goal is changed, an entirely new plan must be developed). However, reassessment does not mean completely starting over, as the knowledge of outcomes, objectives, measures, etc., learned during the initial process would accelerate the new planning process. An adaptive policy would include a systematic method for monitoring the environment, gathering information, implementing pieces of the policy over time, and adjusting and re-adjusting to new circumstances. The policies themselves would be designed to be incremental, adaptive, and conditional.

Prepare and adapt means that you have to think in terms of how can my initial policy fail and, if so, what actions should be prepared to intervene and adjust my initial policy. It is therefore very important to monitor developments closely, to consider under which (future) conditions you should intervene, and what the adaptations should be then. Does that require different knowledge? To some extent yes, but we should start using our existing knowledge in a different way. Existing knowledge should be used in a way that it contributes to a different way of thinking – explorative thinking – in terms of problems (uncertainties) as well as solutions (transport and non-transport system solutions). Generating explorative knowledge is one thing, implementing it in practice is another thing. We know for instance that spatial and telecommunication policies have high potential (although also uncertain) to reduce urban transport problems. However transport policy-making is often organized in such a way that non-transport solutions (e.g. in the field of land-use or digital connectivity) are at least difficult to include.

Developing and implementing such an adaptive policy will not be easy. There are significant legal, political, and analytic barriers to be overcome. However, compared with traditional policy-making, the adaptive approach is highly promising in terms of handling the range of uncertainties related to urban transport policy-making.

Vincent Marchau is professor in Uncertainty and Adaptivity of Societal Systems at the Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, and member of the Triple Access for Uncertain Futures project team.

Triple Access Planning

Be (a)ware of context!

A Note on the Importance of Institutional Aspects in Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning for Triple Access and Uncertainty 

Examining institutional aspects in the SUMP framework 

Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning (SUMP) has been developed and applied throughout the EU during the 2010s, supported by a set of planning guidelines (Rupprecht Consult, 2019) that provide transport planners with key instructions on how to develop and implement sustainable urban mobility in an urban or metropolitan context. Apart from handling subject matters of sustainable mobility, this concerns to a large extent governance and handling a variety of institutional aspects such as horizontal and vertical integration of actors and perspectives, managing regulations, creating legitimate policy solutions and mobilizing capacity for change. Issues such as these may have significant influence over both SUM planning and its implementation.  

Formal, and to some extent informal institutional conditions are touched upon in the guidelines, but mainly at a general level, and in an in-depth supplementary manual for institutional cooperation (Cré et al, 2016). Consideration of Triple Access Planning and uncertainty (Lyons & Davidson, 2016) in SUMP adds to the complexity of SUM-planning, which makes it more important to further consider governance and institutional conditions in SUMP approaches and practices.  

In the TAP for Uncertain Futures project, a literature review on SUMP and SUM-related planning has been carried out with the purpose to address the current state-of-the art knowledge and potential gaps in the current SUMP guidelines concerning formal and informal institutional aspects. The review has specifically focused on how governance and institutional conditions affect SUMP processes and conditions for considering Triple Access Planning and deep uncertainty (see Marchau et al, 2019 for further orientation and in-depth knowledge on deep uncertainty). Here follow some findings from this review and some insights from research literature about how to enhance SUMP further on this subject matter. 

Findings and knowledge gaps about institutional aspects in relation to SUMP, Triple Access Planning and deep uncertainty?  

The studied research literature concerns several relevant themes related to institutional aspects in sustainable urban mobility planning:  

  • General barriers, challenges and recommendations 
  • Policy integration and a multi-level perspective 
  • Participation and co-creation 
  • Attending to context and transferability of knowledge and practices 
  • Factors and mechanisms influencing process dynamics 
  • Some of the themes are sparingly or not at all treated in the literature that specifically concerns SUMP, such as policy integration, multi-level perspectives and influential factors and mechanisms on process dynamics. They are foremost studied in more general research on sustainable urban mobility. Although some of the reviewed studies form part of the basis of the SUMP guidelines, taken together with other studies they show a knowledge gap between research and the guidelines where the literature review contributes concerning: 
  • Mechanisms and factors such as mental models, lock in´s and path dependencies that focuses on the process dynamics and the design of the process and contextual settings rather than the planning content (policy).  
  • The relationship between governance and institutions on the one hand and uncertainty on the other.  
  • An emphasis on local context, informal institutions and governance practice and a meta-perspective on institutions by making them explicit in the process.  

Comparing the guidelines and the findings of the literature review has revealed some gaps and lacking perspectives:  

  • Informal institutions are treated in the guidelines as actors, not as structures or action. As a consequence, there is a focus on organizing stakeholders and their agendas.  
  • Informal practice and contextual and structural aspects are sparsely considered. Here, the literature review has identified the need for a more sensitive and adaptive approach to these aspects.  
  • Governance is consequently related to the formal arrangement of actors in the guidelines, missing out on the tactical and operational levels of tinkering and tailoring of the process as an act of balance between strategic and incremental process management.  
  • Power is discussed only implicitly – if not even made invisible – in many of the prescriptions in the guidelines. Thereby they are also hard to grasp as a characteristic of governance and institutional action while still being a major contributor to institutional uncertainty. The literature review identifies power-struggle as the conflict over diverging discourses and mental models as well as through various barriers and challenges. 
  • Uncertainty, as described by Marchau et al (2019), can be categorized at four levels: level 1) – any uncertainty that can be described adequately in statistical terms, such as in a forecast with a confidence interval; level 2) – alternative, trend-based futures, where some estimate can be made of the probability of each of them; level 3 – deep uncertainty about the mechanisms and functional relationships being studied, often captured in the form of a wide range of plausible scenarios, and finally level 4 – the deepest level of recognized uncertainty, where we only know that we do not know. In the guidelines uncertainty isviewed  mainly as the risk of not achieving a SUMP that is aligned with the guidelines – a level 1 uncertainty. Level 2 uncertainty is considered only when it comes to the development of policy, e. g. as scenario-making. Deep uncertainty (level 3 or 4 uncertainty) and uncertainty from an institutional perspective are generally almost not considered at all.  
What do insights from research literature say about how SUMP guidelines may be further developed to handle the perspective of TAP and uncertainty?  

The literature review has led to some overarching insights about the nature of institutional and governance aspects of SUMP that needs to inform the enhancement of the SUMP guidelines:  

  • Create and maintain awareness of context – stick to principles but allow practical discretion. 
  • Attend to factors and mechanisms that influence dynamics and uncertainties during the entire planning process. 
  • There are limits to integration and participation, as it increases the complexity of the process. Consider which professional, civil society and local competencies and experiences should be represented, and at which stages of the process.  
  • Accommodate processual reflexivity, iteration and local discretion in guidelines. 
  • Develop institutional capacity – knowledge resources, relational resources and mobilization ability – in the planning organization. 

The literature review and gap analysis show that there is indeed need for a developed SUMP process model with regards to institutional and governance aspects from the perspective of TAP and deep uncertainty. The insights and general recommendations from the review provide some ways forward for this. 

Among the lessons are that the 12-step SUMP process could be designed from the eight general principles in the SUMP guidelines framework (see Rupprecht, 2019) but adapted to the local context of the specific urban area to be planned for.  

Also, to emphasize the consideration of informal institutional aspects and to accommodate deep uncertainty, the 12-step SUMP process could be implemented in a more iterative, open, nonlinear and cyclical way in order to accommodate deep uncertainty. 

Continuous activities of mapping, anchoring, co-creation, reflexive learning and adaptation could further be emphasized as part of the process design and take place throughout the process or, concerning some aspects, in a more orchestrated manner, targeting specific activities, such as the mapping of the institutional capacity of the organization and the iterative development and evaluation of both explorative and normative scenarios as a way to systematically investigate and make concrete plausible and preferable futures for sustainable mobility as part of the triple access urban system.  

Adaptive or transformative SUM-planning? – a brief reflection concerning institutional aspects, TAP and uncertainty 

The most fundamental improvement to be made to strengthen the shift to a regime-testing and sustainable mobility paradigm would perhaps be to alter the ontology of mobility planning from a technological-rational dominated worldview to one that is more pluralistic and that better acknowledges the social production of (unknown) futures and the multiplicity of trajectories stemming from such production. An open-minded and learning planning organization appears as an important condition for such a shift. The literature review has shown that a developed awareness and an advanced treatment of institutional aspects can help foster this institutional learning.  

In relation to ambitions of developing more transformative, regime-testing SUM planning which better accommodates Triple Access Planning and uncertainty, it is important to note that strengthening adaptivity both of a specific plan and the planning process as such, comes with the risk of, in effect, contributing to sustaining current planning regimes rather than challenging them. Practices and plans which are made more adaptable might strengthen the resilience and longevity of previous planning approaches and sustain dominant, underpinning planning orientations, and thereby result in an effective avoidance of considering potentially more transformative pathways. In that sense, SUM planning that accommodates uncertainty and TAP with the aim to enforce a transition towards sustainable mobility might be better helped by characteristics such as in-depth reflexivity and scrutiny of practices and its outcomes, rather than reinforcing incremental adaptation of a planning process or a previously decided plan. Or, at least, and based on insights from the reviewed literature, active reflexivity seems to be needed to make way for effective adaptation in practice. 


Cré, I., Mourey, T., Ryder, A., Heckley, S. & Balant, M. (2016). Institutional cooperation. Working jointly with institutional partners in the context of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans. European Commission, Brussels.  

Lyons, G., & Davidson, C. (2016). Guidance for transport planning and policymaking in the face of an uncertain future. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 88, 104-116. 

Marchau, V.A.W.J., Walker, W.E., Bloemen, P.J.T.M & Popper, S.J. (2019). Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty. From Theory to Practice. Springer. 

Rupprecht Consult (editor) (2019), Guidelines for Developing and Implementing a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, Second Edition. 


Tony Svensson is a researcher on urban and regional studies at The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden and an assistant professor in Civil planning and construction at Dalarna University and a member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertainty project team.  

Jacob Witzell is a researcher on strategic transport planning at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and the National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI) in Sweden, and a member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertainty project team. 

Triple Access Planning

Testing urban mobility plans against uncertain futures: Findings from a participatory workshop

By considering urban mobility in terms of accessibility, not only transport systems are important but also spatial configurations and digital infrastructure. In other words, when we talk about accessibility, we have to consider a dynamic system of physical transport, land use, and digital interaction. Many uncertainties surround such a system including for example uncertainties regarding; the extent to which telecommunication can (partially) take over physical mobility, how transport innovations might evolve, individuals‘ future location choices, and the future of goods mobility. These uncertainties might significantly affect the accessibility and decision-making in accessibility planning must, therefore, take these uncertainties into account. An extensive literature review, that we recently conducted, on using scenarios for handling uncertainty, concluded that integrating participatory explorative scenario approaches within the early steps of the planning for accessibility is necessary. It was observed that, involving stakeholders in scenario activities can be in three main forms: (1) informing, that aims at raising stakeholder’s awareness of a pre-developed plan; and sometimes have a say in weighting between alternative futures, (2) testing, where participants are given the opportunity to test how future-proof  a given plan is, i.e. explore  uncertainties that might influence it, and (3) creating, where participants are fully involved in planning and scenario creation.

In scenario planning activities, the “scenario development” process design is one of the most critical tasks.  Many choices need to be made in advance to guarantee results (scenarios) that address the surrounding level of uncertainty (Chakraborty & McMillan, 2015; Lyons et al., 2021). Among the most important choices are; selecting the scenario type (exploratory, normative, or predictive), scenario construction (qualitative or quantitative), scenario scope, scenario development duration, resources, scenario development approach (inductive or deductive), participation platform (online, or face-to-face), and the degree of stakeholders involvement. Some of these choices can be based on the addressed level of uncertainty; they change the “scenario development” process design, and consequently impact the results.

Figure 1: Nijmegen’s City center. ©IntoNijmegen/Wilger Brevoord

As part of our Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project, we developed and applied a workshop to: (1) understand how stakeholders imagine uncertainties, and how scenarios can support handling these uncertainties, and; (2) to test the extent of stakeholders’ participation in scenario planning for accessibility futures.. In particular, participants were invited to stress-test the current urban mobility plan of the city of Nijmegen against different future uncertainties. The workshop was part of the AMS scientific conference: reinventing the city, and we prepared it in collaboration with a policy advisor from the municipality of Nijmegen. It was attended by 16 participants, ranging between transport practitioners, academic researchers to students. The workshop’s scope was focused on three main policies in Nijmegen: (1) The New Parking Policy: moving from facilitating to controlling, (2) The eHUB project: electric shared transport facilities i.e. e-bikes, e-cargo bikes, e-cars, and (3) The new traffic management system which involves prioritization of specific streets, impeding the growth of car traffic, and deployment of innovative ICT solutions for mobility Smart. A deductive approach  (approach that starts by identifying the future drivers of change, then exploring their effect on the future) was followed where, as recommended by Lyons et al. (2021), we used the STEEP framework (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political), and a 2X2 chart to specify the level of importance and degree of uncertainty of each driver. The workshop was divided over two rounds, each of 45 minutes:

1. The first round aimed at exploring the vulnerabilities of the existing policies (i.e. how can the urban mobility plan fail) and opportunities (i.e. how can the plan succeed), based on the STEEP perspective. After identifying the vulnerabilities and opportunities, participants were asked to indicate the degree of importance and uncertainty for each of those (see Figure 2). Generally, the most frequently discussed vulnerabilities and opportunities related to the travel behavior change, the need for improving communication and information sharing (e.g. how would the elderly interact with the eHUB project), the rise of new modes of transport (e.g. autonomous vehicles), and possibilities of steering the city toward a more sustainable vision through infrastructure developments (e.g. parking, EV charging).

Figure 2: SUMP vulnerabilities and opportunities classified

2. The second round aimed at specifying measures to handle the important and uncertain vulnerabilities and opportunities (see figure 3). The most frequent measures mentioned in this round concerned regulating and incentivizing sustainable modes of transport (e.g. LEVs), and increasing participatory planning and information sharing to raise awareness (e.g. to guarantee effective behavioral change).

Figure 3: Measures to handle the identified vulnerabilities and opportunities

As a conclusion we came up with the following important points to be considered in future workshops:

  • It is very important to have prior knowledge of the workshop attendees (areas and level of expertise, number of attendees, affiliation/perspective, …etc.). This shall affect the workshop design and outcomes. E.g. depending on the experience of attendees, moderators need to focus more on explaining the prioritization ranges (e.g. important, unimportant, certain and uncertain).
  • The more specific the case study is presented, i.e. the mobility plan, the more specific the  solutions, i.e. preparatory measures, can be derived. I .e. the Nijmegen mobility plan can be broken-down into several specific policies, and these policies can be discussed in-depth.
  • Selecting the platform of participation act among the most important process-design choices, for improving the session and its outcomes. If the workshop is online, it is best to choose a clearly interactive and accessible platform (e.g Miro, MS teams,…etc.). Being able to see and divide the participants in smaller groups can improve interaction and provide reliable outcomes.
  • It is vital to increase participants’ knowledge of the subject and raise their awareness to motivate them to participate. Motivating participants can be through explaining  why they should participate, and how the workshop might help them; as well as why the workshop is important for the project. Including this in the workshop’s introduction and conclusion can help in that.

Finally, considering this workshop being a part of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project, a more specific focus on the three TAP dimensions can guide the rounds besides the STEEP perspectives. This can help participants to think beyond traditional mobility planning and imagine a wider range of uncertainties.

Overall, the workshop was considered successful in achieving its goals, and we want to thank all attendees for participating and helping us organize our process.


Chakraborty, A., & McMillan, A. (2015). Scenario planning for urban planners: Toward a practitioner’s guide. Journal of the American Planning Association, 81(1), 18-29.

Lyons, G., Rohr, C., Smith, A., Rothnie, A., & Curry, A. (2021). Scenario planning for transport practitioners. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 11, 100438.

Triple Access Planning

Uncertainty and the EU SUMP Guidelines – more to consider?

It’s getting on for three years since the EU SUMP Guidelines (Rupprecht Consult, 2019, produced for the European Commission) were published and if there’s one thing that’s become more obvious in that time than it was back then, it’s that we live in an uncertain world.  There are changes, such as in personal preferences about where to live and how to travel, or fuel prices, or the use of self-driving vehicles, that we can foresee, but we are uncertain about the speed and scale of change.  Then there are changes that we simply cannot anticipate – arguably, the pandemic was one of these. The use of digital connectivity as a substitute for physical mobility, and the importance or otherwise of access based on short distances (the 15 Minute City, for example), are concepts that are with us, but how much they will reduce longer distance physical mobility in future remains uncertain as well.  So, in short, there’s a pressing need to try to better account for these uncertainties in SUM planning – perhaps especially so in those SUMPs, such as those financed by the EU in Accession States, that involve, at considerable cost, the construction by consultants of a traditional four-stage transport model using quite linear predictions of the future that, after the SUMP has been produced, nobody in the municipality for which it is built is very certain how to use.

In the Urban Europe project Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures we are advocating an approach to SUM planning that takes uncertainty more into account – but how?  Principally, we suggest, by the use of explorative scenarios – this means scenarios, or depictions of the future, that begin on the basis of past and present trends but that lead to credible, plausible futures.  Crucially, these are scenarios that do not package transport measures within a SUMP – they instead  try to take into account (changes in) a range of factors that might influence our futures substantially, such as personal preferences for different forms of social contact, or trends in working patterns.  Packages of measures and the SUMP as a whole can then be “stress-tested” against these scenarios to see how well they perform.  Ratcliffe (2002, p.4) is cited in Mietzner and Reger (2005:224) as listing the “main characteristics of scenarios [as]:

  • present alternative images instead of extrapolating trends from the present
  • embrace qualitative perspectives as well as quantitative data
  • allow for sharp discontinuities to be evaluated
  • require decision makers to question their basic assumptions
  • create a learning organisation possessing a common vocabulary and an effective
  • basis for communicating complex – sometimes paradoxical – conditions/ options.”   

So how is uncertainty dealt with in the EU SUMP Guidelines?  To answer this question, the TAP for Uncertain Futures project conducted a structured review of the 2019 Guidelines and the 2021 Topic Guide on Planning for More Resilient and Robust Urban Mobility.  Leaving aside the issue that digital accessibility is really not considered, and nor is the uncertainty of the future interaction between digital, short distance and long distance mobility as means to access what we need, the main issue is that scenario planning, as defined in Sections 4.1 and 4.2 of the Guidelines, is not based on explorative scenarios as described above, but largely on scenarios defined as different packages of SUMP measures.  The 2021 Topic Guide defines scenarios in the same way but slightly confusingly also mentions explorative scenarios.  However, it says little about the detail of explorative scenario development and planning, and advocates their use primarily as a way to address major shocks such as pandemics rather than a routine part of SUM planning for an uncertain world. 

So while the 2021 publication has in comparison to its 2019 “big brother” begun to recognise uncertainty as something that should be planned for, in brief, there is little advice on how to do so.  It is for this reason that the TAP for Uncertain Futures project, through its research and practical work with five municipalities across Europe as they further develop their SUMPs, plans to produce new practical guidance on how to develop scenarios and better plan for uncertainty in SUMPs in future.

Tom Rye is a Professor of Transport Policy at Molde University, Norway, and a senior researcher UIRS the Urban Planning Institute of Slovenia, and (with UIRS) project partner in Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures.

Triple Access Planning

System Thinking: a powerful tool to Triple Access Planning

I have been working as a researcher in sustainable transport and new technologies for the last seven years, and in the last couple of years I had the opportunity to work on research projects that explored the future of transport systems, including the role of digitalisation, new technologies and decarbonisation. I was therefore very excited when I was offered the opportunity to work in the Triple Access Planning (TAP) for Uncertain Futures project.

My first task as part of the research team at the University of the West of England (UK) was to design and develop a tool to support Triple Access Planning. I was told we were going to use System Thinking to better understand the interconnections affecting accessing access in urban areas between the Transport system and the Telecommunication and Land Use system. Therefore, I did some research to understand better what that meant in practice.

I asked myself: “What is a system?”, and I found a very nice definition by Donella Meadows, who says that a system is “a set of elements or parts interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time”. I was quite happy with this definition, as I had been introduced to Transport Systems when I started my master’s in Transport Engineering, and I learned how a transport system and the internal relationships among its components can be dynamic, complex, and influenced by a series of internal and external factors (or systems). This might sound very complicated, but it is fundamental to understand how to design a better, more efficient, inclusive, and cleaner transport system in the future.

With system thinking I learned that it is possible to understand why and how systems behave the way they do, and how it can be used to communicate and share expertise with local experts and planners. Barry Richmond talked about “System thinking” already in 1987, suggesting it can be used to analyse and explain complex interdependencies. The literature does not provide a unique definition, but rather a range of different descriptions of what “system thinking” is, and this underlines its high complexity. To simplify it in a few words, we can say that it is a system of thinking about systems.

When we use system thinking, we need to consider:

  • Elements, components, or variables, which characterise the system.
  • Interconnections, relationships, or flows, between the elements, highlighting dependencies.
  • A purpose, which is the most important thing we need to have clear when we decide to use system thinking, as this will guide us in understanding how the system behaves.

There are several tools that we can use to apply system thinking, including Network Analysis, System Dynamics, Logic Mapping, Viable System Mapping, Cognitive Mapping, Theory of Change, Soft Systems Methodology, Agent-Based Modelling, and Causal Loop Diagrams.

We wanted to co-design with the project partners (e.g., academics and practitioners) a system of systems that included the Transport System, the Telecommunication System and the Land Use System. Due to the nature of the research we decided to use the Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) method, as it is very helpful when you want to transfer and visualise the variables (and their relationships) that you already have in your mind in a diagram. CLDs use only two elements: variables (indicated with their names) and causal links (indicated by arrows). The (direct/indirect) nature of the relationships between variables is indicated by a positive or negative sign.

Figure 1. Example of loops from the diagram we co-designed at the workshop series.

In addition, the CLD allows to identify feedback loops and priority areas where to start/focus and therefore design a strategy. We found that this is a very powerful tool when you want to work on system thinking with experts who speak different “languages” (e.g., academics, practitioners, transport planners and local authorities). This is why system thinking and CLDs can be used by practitioners and transport planners to explore how the bigger-picture dynamics can change when some parts of the system change.

Across five online multi-stakeholder workshops with the TAP partners we have considered a range of variables with different natures (e.g., Congestion, Land Use Diversity, Homeworking), all interconnected within the three sub systems (Transport, Telecommunication and Land Use) to compose the Triple Access System. System Thinking was completely new to most of the participants, so we ran a first workshop to allow them to familiarise with the concept. First reactions from some participants were something like “Why am I here?”, “What are they asking me to do?”, “I don’t feel I have the right expertise to do this”, and this is why having a well-designed whiteboard and a good moderator are crucial.

All things considered, I have gathered some tips to use System Thinking in the future:

  • Identify stakeholders– including transport practitioners, city planners, local authorities and academics/experts. It does not matter if they have little (or no) experience in system thinking, as you will oversee the process, making them feel comfortable when you are running your workshop(s). It is important that they are varied and have a role in influencing the system.
  • Think about access – not only transport issues and solutions. Transport is a derived demand, so we should move beyond ‘only considering transport solutions for transport problems’ and consider other additional solutions, as transport solutions may not be the only recourse to addressing transport problems. This include the strong link between transport and land use, but also other solutions within the broader concept of urban accessibility.
  • Consider the key role of Digital Connectivity in the future of urban accessibility – especially with virtual mobility replacing physical mobility to fulfil urban access needs. This “third leg” has been largely ignored in transport planning so far, but it is increasingly finding its space in changing the way people access and move in an urban area.
  • Think about the Triple Access System – try to understand how variables are related to each other and how the system behaves in order to design a sustainable urban mobility plan.
  • Keep it simple – understandable by experts and non-experts, and easy to use – avoid ambiguity when you define a variable, which would only unnecessarily increase complexity, and try to keep simple relationships among variables, avoiding direct connections when indirect connections are possible.
  • Be patient – take your time and do not feel rushed to find a conclusion quickly. TAP is an approach to visualise and communicate what our minds think urban accessibility is. It can therefore support researchers, practitioners and transport and city planners to better think what the system is, and at the same time to understand what implications a specific measure can have. It is therefore important to gather a good understanding of how the smaller issues/relationships/sub-components contribute to the bigger picture.

Thinking together added incredible value to our understanding of what Triple Access System means and how the sub-systems can interact to each other’s in a complex and uncertain future world.

I hope this post helped you understanding how the power of system thinking can support us in future transport planning. If you liked this post or have any questions/comments or other resources to share, please contact me at


Daniela Paddeu is Senior Research Fellow in Transport Studies at UWE Bristol, and a member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project team.

Triple Access Planning

TAPping into a changing world

The term ‘Triple Access Planning’ (TAP) seems to be gaining traction. Triple access is about recognising, understanding and shaping the world in which we live – a world in which there are three means to access people, goods, jobs, services and opportunities: physical mobility (transport system), spatial proximity (land use system) and digital connectivity (telecommunications system). The Triple Access System requires us to lift our heads up from a rather myopic focus on transport solutions to transport problems in transport planning. This is something the pan-European project ‘Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures’ aims to help with. It comes at a time when the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and uncertainty about the future.

The project began in May 2021 and has academic, public authority and consultancy partners in Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK. In December 2021 the UK academic and non-academic partners came together to reflect upon the project. This short article summarises some of the points that came to light in their conversation:

Time to think – As a policymaker and as a planner, systems thinking is about being able to stand back and make sense of the system that one is hoping to shape and improve. It can be all too easy to see the time to think in a busy world squeezed out. Facing the immediacy and urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency respectively suggests even less time to think, with a need to see action. Yet ironically, thinking is needed more than ever. We need to reflect upon, challenge and develop our mental models of the system of mobility in the wider context of examining the Triple Access System. The TAP for Uncertain Futures project is allowing us to do this. It is providing time to think. After all – failing to think and then plan, is planning to fail…

Drawing upon experience – A common challenge when we are asked to contemplate future development is that we haven’t experienced it so how can we offer a meaningful view? The COVID-19 pandemic has given us all some experience in the present of what could be a more mainstream future – we have seen how it is possible to make very different use of the Triple Access System (affecting where, when and how we do things – notably with higher collective reliance on digital connectivity for work, shopping and leisure), and found it in some respects rather appealing (while in respects less so in terms, for example, of social isolation). The exposure from this shared experience creates an important platform for thinking differently about the future and how we plan for it. The project has arrived at an opportune time.

Giving credence to TAP – As a three-year project dedicated to Triple Access Planning, TAP for Uncertain Futures helps to bring the concept to life and to give it legitimacy and visibility. It forms part of a ‘learning by talking about it and doing it’ culture. Several organisations inside and outside of the project consortium are now referring to Triple Access Planning and using it to frame their thinking and planning (from small acorns…..). The project and its website offer a boost for innovators and early adopters to bring Triple Access Planning to the attention of their colleagues and stakeholders. The project also provides an important forum for learning how to better articulate what is a more challenging representation of the world than perhaps we have seen previously in transport planning – it’s not as simple as ‘if you push a button here, something happens over there’.

Beyond silos and boundaries – It’s not easy doing joined up thinking. The hope of better integration between land use and transport goes back to the 1960s. Accessibility planning was something that brought ‘access’ to the fore in the 2000s but joined up thinking and action hasn’t proved to be easy, or easy to sustain. In a resource-constrained planning environment “it’s not my department, it’s not my problem” can soon trip off the tongue. Yet siloed thinking and action in a Triple Access System risk becoming more vulnerable to unanticipated consequences and missed opportunities if we do not broaden our field of view and collective action.

Climate change makes it our problem – Yet perhaps COVID-19 and the climate emergency make the need for joined up thinking and action greater than it’s ever been – we all have a problem and need to be more open-minded and co-operative if we are to make the progress that is needed. The challenge – one that the project will need to grapple with – is how to make a more complex ‘system of systems’ proposition accessible and persuasive to those in authority in different functional parts of the public sector. The proposition has to ring out ‘this can help you to overcome the problems you face and the opportunities that you may have for the taking’.

A TAP castle on sand – The TAP for Uncertain Futures project is embarking on a review of existing Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) and equivalent documents across 40-50 urban areas in several European countries. This will help to understand the extent to which existing guidance on urban mobility planning is being put into practice. What will it discover? The hope would be that strong planning is found in many locations, suggesting a firm bedrock upon which to build Triple Access Planning. Yet suppose the aspired for Triple Access Planning ‘castle’ is being built upon sand? What if existing urban mobility planning is still struggling in some respects with more fundamental issues of understanding, resources and agency when it comes to supporting policymaking to shape the future? This remains to be seen and will be an important contribution from the project.

Rethinking analytical robustness – The biggest risk facing urban planning authorities may be being risk averse. In the face of the discomfort of a changing and uncertain world it may be tempting to seek solace in the familiar. The orthodox transport planning approach may prevail, involving tried and tested measures and perhaps strongly guided by being forecast-led instead of vision-led. This may perpetuate a reliance on a particular understanding of analytical robustness where being precisely wrong can be favoured over being approximately right. Consider the prospect of investing to transform digital connectivity to reshape the Triple Access System, or closing a city centre to traffic to provide priority for active travel and proximate encounters. Such bold changes may seem hard to contemplate and to justify, even if triple access thinking may instinctively suggest they are meritorious. COVID-19 gave us many glimpses of how swift and rather transformative actions – light on analytical underpinnings – can be taken to change the system, changes to which humans respond and adapt. Whether or not adaptation is universally well-received is another matter and lessons are being learned in this regard.

A public coming on side – We live in a world that has historically been driven by pursuit of economic prosperity and within which cost and convenience have been important determinants of behaviour. It has been a challenging environment within which to suggest ambitions for less travel and less motorised travel, and to realise such ambitions. Yet now the imperative of addressing climate change is with all urban authorities, with many having declared a climate emergency. The imperative has also seemingly been growing in the minds of the electorate. In Britain the latest November Ipsos MORI Issues Index indicates concern about the environment and climate change are at the highest level since this tracker survey began in the 1980s. Concern for the environment and climate change is considerably higher than for the economy. People will doubtless still weigh cost and convenience heavily in the choices they make but they may be more tolerant of urban mobility planning interventions that are designed to reshape the Triple Access System and the choices within it.

Window of opportunity – None of this is easy as is well-recognised by the project partners themselves. However, the difficult position the world finds itself in will not be eased by strategic ignorance and a temptation to muddle along doing what was always done. Substantial change needs to happen. The pain of change can perhaps be eased by redistributing how we fulfil our access needs and desires within the Triple Access System. The project finds itself in the midst of an unprecedented opportunity. COVID-19 has illuminated the resilience offered by the Triple Access System and the adaptability of humans within the system, when system conditions change. The increasing emphasis on goals for the future in terms of emissions reduction and changes to technology and behaviour suggests a growing move from being forecast-led to vision-led in planning. The climate emergency brings us together in what can be a united effort to achieve substantial but also inclusive change. Triple Access Planning may in these circumstances help provide the key to unlocking new opportunities for society to respond positively and effectively to the circumstances it faces. Perhaps then, TAP for Uncertain Futures is in the right place at the right time.


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.

Triple Access Planning

Rethinking Appraisal and Prioritisation of Transport Infrastructure Investment

When I started my career in transport one of the areas I had to learn about first was basic economics.

When I started working for the government, I then started to learn about politics.

I saw lots of politicians studied PPE – Philosophy, Politics and Economics, so I decided I should learn a bit about Philosophy.

I did a short online course and discovered that philosophy was simply thinking about how we think about something. The start of the title of tonight’s event could easily have been Transport Philosophy and Prioritisation of Transport Infrastructure Investment.

The course also taught me that philosophy is something that you have to actively do. You need to postulate, debate, discuss and argue and that’s what I’m here to do tonight and so to be clear, what I’m going to say are generally my personal musings and thoughts on this topic and may not reflect the views of Transport Scotland or the Scottish Government. 

Philosophically, it occurred to me that the transport sector is founded on a paradox.

I think that travel is a good thing. It has broadened my mind. I have seen many wondrous sights on 5 different continents. I enjoy going new places and getting out and about.

But I have spent a most of my career working on the assumption that travel is a bad thing. It is a disutility. Indeed, many of our business cases are founded on travel time savings.

And it gets even more complex for us. Fundamentally, as an industry we have been very good at getting people to travel further and that’s been accepted as good. Compared to 50 years ago we now travel on average over 50% further a day – 19 miles rather than 12 without taking any more time to do that.

We’ve built more homes, enabled services to consolidate and become more efficient.

However, the faster we travel, the more energy we use and even worse it’s a squared relationship. Kinetic energy = ½ mass x velocity squared.

It’s very bad when we get that energy from fossil fuels, but even if we go all electric, that’s a lot of energy to generate.

So, looking to the future, is our job to help people to travel more or travel less? I’ve asked this question of a few transport planners and it tends to leave them with a very quizzical look on their face.

As an aside, I don’t believe other sectors suffer this paradox. The Health sector has a clear objective to make people healthier. The education sector to make people better educated. Employment sector to get people employed, etc. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that rocket science is part of the transport sector.

But back to philosophy, when faced with a paradox like this it’s a great opportunity to think about how we think about transport. I think the solution lies in being more holistic. Travel is generally a disutility but I’m not a masochist; I don’t travel for the sake of travelling. I travel because I get a greater utility from whatever it is that the travel is giving me access to. I’ve travelled over 450 miles to be here today – that’s a lot of disutility, but I did it on the expectation of the utility that I’ll get from listening to my fellow panellists and hopefully from the feedback I get from you, the audience.

However, we don’t just get access from travelling. Whilst I’ve travelled a long way to be here tonight, some of you might be lucky enough to work close by and were able to walk or cycle here and of course this event is taking place on line.

Together these three ways of access were, to my mind, beautifully wrapped up in this diagram in Glenn Lyons and Cody Davidson’s 2016 paper.

We achieve access to services and goods through either physical motorised mobility, spatial proximity enabling active travel or digital connectivity.

You might say this is not a particularly new concept and I would concur. We’ve been talking about the need for better integration of spatial and transport planning for over 50 years. Just yesterday the ICE had a webinar that was linked to COP26 titled Planning for Transport and Connectivity. The image that accompanied it was of high density neighbourhoods with vertical green space, horizontal blue space and the mobility was all walking and cycling – not a motor vehicle in sight and the information about the event was the now familiar concept of the 10, 15, or 20 minute neighbourhood.

I’d now like to bring in the second part of the event’s title – prioritisation of transport infrastructure investment.

Probably since the Romans started building roads, more transport infrastructure has generally been a good thing. Build it and they will come. It’s actually been quite hard to fail in transport because we’ve not really had any competition.

But I put it to you that world is now history. Not only does transport have serious competition for delivering access, the need to rapidly transition to a net-zero sustainable world means we have to travel less.

I see spatial planners all over the world now talking about the 10, 15 or 20 minute neighbourhoods. I recently moved home and when looking at flats to rent, superfast broadband was a non-negotiable need. I would even go so far as to say that for my son’s generation they would probably put digital access alongside food, water, clothing and shelter as a basic physiological need.

In summary, the transport sector now has some serious competition and we ignore it at our peril IF we continue to think about transport in the same way that we’ve done for so long now.

So what can we do about this? Fortunately there’s a system I know of for dealing with problems, it’s called Appraisal.

Appraisal starts with Problems and or Opportunities. 

I think we have a problem that if we continue to think about transport appraisal in isolation then we are at risk of investing in both the wrong transport infrastructure and putting it in the wrong place.

Have I made a convincing case for that? I obviously think I have but if you think I’m wrong, I am keen to hear why.

After defining the problem, we need an objective or outcome that captures where we want to get to.

For me, that’s pretty simple. We need to move to doing access appraisal where we think about the full Triple Access Planning concept for solving transport problems.

Again, that step needs buy-in. Do you think I’ve articulated the right outcome to aim for?

Next step is to come up with the options that will achieve the outcome sought.

I’ve a few ideas and if you are in agreement with my articulation of the problem and the outcome, I would be keen to hear any further options you have?

1. I’m already doing this option. I was lucky to be invited to be a non-academic partner to a Europe-wide consortium of universities from the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Italy and Slovenia, who started earlier this year a 3 year project titled: Using Triple Access Planning to Enhance Urban Accessibility and Connectivity in the Face of Deep Uncertainty. The website for the research is on the slide and the Project Coordinator is my good friend Professor Glenn Lyons .

2. What about working toward a unified appraisal system for transport, land-use and digital. I know that the Welsh government’s transport appraisal guidance welTAG already advises practitioners to consider non-transport solutions and the very recent update to the Scottish Guidance that I’m responsible for has included this.

Is that enough? I don’t know. This is one of my medium-term plans to look at. In Scotland, in addition to our transport appraisal guidance, we already have development planning and management transport appraisal guidance – I’m also responsible for this, so it’s high on my list for review / update / possibly consolidation with the transport appraisal guidance.

By fortunate coincidence, the economists in our digital directorate doing business cases there used to work alongside me in Transport Scotland.  They recognise that Transport Appraisal Guidance is pretty much gold standard and they’ve started writing Digital Appraisal Guidance with an eye on how we do things and are thinking about the transport impacts.

3. This one is still a nascent idea, but have started the conversation with colleagues in digital about whether we need research on how people and businesses make their location choices based on not only on physical but also digital connectivity. I would be reluctant to now live anywhere that doesn’t have a minimum of 50Mb broadband.

4. And finally, as I will be coming up on my 10 minutes now, what’s in a name?

Language is important and has a framing effect on how we think about issues. An excellent recent example of this is to talk about road traffic collisions rather than road traffic accidents.

I’m a transport planner. When faced with a transport problem, my head reaches straight for the bag of transport solutions. 

But would being a Chartered Access Planning Professional change the way I think? Should I be petitioning my friend, colleague and soon to be president of the Chartered Institute for Highways and Transport, Neil Johnstone, to change its name to the Chartered Institute of Access, although I’m not sure what connection requests I’ll start to get through LinkedIn if I say I’m a member of the CIA.


Stephen Cragg is Head of Appraisal and Model Development at Transport Scotland and representing Transport Scotland in the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project.

Triple Access Planning

Shifting mobility trends in a fast changing world mean that transport planners have to get to grips with uncertainty

The way in which citizens move around cities and regions across the globe has been changing in ways that were not anticipated and has left public authorities unsure how to plan transport infrastructure and services. I chaired a working group of the International Transport Forum which looked at why we had not foreseen counter trends in travel behaviour, what we can do to better anticipate future travel demand and how we can plan transport given deep uncertainty. The findings of the working group highlight the importance of the work we are now conducting in the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project.

The International Transport Forum (ITF) is an intergovernmental organisation with 63 member countries that acts as a think tank for transport policy and organises an Annual Summit of transport ministers. One of its activities is to convene working groups of international experts to conduct in-depth studies of transport policy issues identified as priorities by ITF member countries.

In 2019, I was asked by the ITF to chair a working group on ‘Travel Transitions and New Mobility Behaviours’. I had previously led a study for the UK Department for Transport exploring the reasons for a decline in car driving by young people. As I was writing a discussion paper for the working group, everyone’s lives changed dramatically when the world was struck down by Covid-19. The subject of the working group took on increased significance as we experienced the biggest shift in travel behaviour in living memory.

The pandemic affected how the working group operated. Instead of meeting in Paris, the working group met via zoom on two days in December 2020. A sign of things to come? We were taking advantage of improved digital interaction technologies to save on international travel and still conduct productive business. Representatives of 16 countries attended the meeting and discussed the challenges they were facing and the responses they were making to uncertainty in travel trends.

After the online meeting, I worked with the ITF secretariat and invited experts to write a research report. The working group published its research report “Travel Transitions: How Transport Planners and Policy Makers Can Respond to Shifting Mobility Trends” in August 2021. The report discusses why breaks with past mobility trends occurred but were not foreseen and makes recommendations on how to plan for a future where very little is certain any more. The report was introduced on 20 September via a webinar to a global audience and I would encourage you to have a look and listen to a recording of the event.

As well as my role in overseeing the writing of the report and writing a chapter on ‘Trend breaks and travel transitions’, I was joined by two Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project colleagues in contributing to the report. Glenn Lyons (UWE Bristol) wrote a chapter on ‘Handling uncertainty in assessing travel transitions’ and Karolina Isaksson (National Road and Transport Research Institute, Sweden) co-wrote a chapter on ‘Governance challenges and opportunities’.  

The report highlights how travel behaviour has evolved in unexpected ways in urbanised areas in the early 21st century. It examines how significant breaks with past trends happened and why these shifts were not foreseen. It is explained how forecast-led transport planning is not well equipped to handle deep uncertainty. The report introduces approaches which explicitly address uncertainty, are vision-led and enable the development of resilient plans. It also considers how governance and institutions can be adapted to support such a paradigm shift.

The ITF report not only emphasises the importance of getting to grips with uncertainty but also the need to move away from focusing only on mobility and recognising that the main purpose of transport – to enable access to opportunities – can also be achieved by spatial proximity and digital connectivity. I’m pleased to say that this is in harmony with the underlying principles of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project. Glenn Lyons has introduced the Triple Access System in a previous blog on this site and how Triple Access Planning has the Triple Access System in mind. I look forward to working with the rest of the project team over the next three years to respond to the challenges highlighted in the ITF report and to develop new ways of planning for urban mobility.

Kiron Chatterjee is Associate Professor in Travel Behaviour at UWE Bristol, and a member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project team.