Multimodal Transport Planning – whats important?

Todd Litman of the Canadian Victoria Transport Policy Institute, in a recent paper (December 2012) describes his view of the basic principles of transport planning.

The paper describes ‘conventional’ transport planning, with a focus on motor vehicle traffic conditions and the ‘newer’ methods for multi-modal planning and evaluation.

This may be the case for North America, but is less so in Australia. I believe that integrated and multimodal planning has been ‘conventional’ for some time here.

The ‘conventional’ planning process described, suggests a bias on the part of the author, with emotive words such as ‘conventional planning practices support automobile dependency’.

Rather, the emphasis needs to be on moving people and goods and all means of transport are given due consideration – whether car, bus, truck, train, ferry, cycle, even walking.

In my view ‘automobile dependency’ is emotive and an anti-car label. In many situations the car travelling by car is either the most economical or viable alternative. As a community cannot afford not to provide for car travel.

What is most important is value – the direct cost to the transport user and the indirect cost to the community (ultimately the taxpayer). The aim should be to minimise the total cost. While it would be great to be able to provide mass public transport for everyone to be able to travel anywhere, anytime – it is just not practical or feasible.

The emphasis should be on reducing the cost of travel and increasing the benefits – not just to the individual traveller but to all of us who foot the bill.

More sophisticated planning tools are available, but the problem is having adequate and accurate data to undertake the analysis. Best practice approaches seek to maximise ‘value’ and consider a range of practical options and develop fit for purpose recommendations.

A major challenge is the difficulty in getting institutions to integrate their planning – transit and highway agencies, state and local authorities – often with different objectives and mandated requirements.

Litman’s paper is a valuable resource, as long as you remain objective and seek for best practice.

Reference: Litman, T (2012) Introduction to Multi-Modal Transportation Planning: principles and practices, Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

2 thoughts on “Multimodal Transport Planning – whats important?”

  1. Todd Litman talked of ‘automobile dependency’, so we should assume he means just that – dependency on cars. I don’t take that as either emotive or ‘anti-car’ – just a concern at being dependent on cars.
    I agree with Phil Charles that mass public transport anywhere and at any time is “just not practical or feasible” – but I don’t think Todd is suggesting that. I know he also sees a strong role for walking and cycling, which as individual transport have a role where you cannot get the mass volumes public transport relies on for viability.
    I also don’t see a lot of difference between North America and Australia – or New Zealand, where I live. In all these places we have a lot of car-based transport planning, but also much thinking on the role and potential of other modes. Credit where credit’s due.

  2. No doubt multi modal integrated transport planning is a difficult task due to the complexities of the factors involved, different modes of transport with specific environmental impacts and space needs, different governing agencies, different categories of users, competing needs and expectations. Can one policy satisfy all users’ needs? Probably not all at the same time, but it should aim at ensuring an adequate level of acceptance from all user groups. No major need or community group should be overlooked. A shift has been happening in recent years in Australia, from providing predominantly road solutions, towards a variety of transport solutions including cycling, buses, shared taxies, heavy and light rail, ferry services. I am confident that the success of these solutions will make them more popular, cost effective and hence more likely to be considered again for the future transport planning. Life is complex, needs are very diverse, hence the solution should be multifaceted, and yes, it will still involve cars, but plus many other choices. A transport planning approach that is flexible in its methodology and regularly improve through review and assessment of how proposed solutions have addressed the needs of communities, has the best chance of being successful.


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