Better mobility requires different choices

23 May 2018 - Expanding the capacity of the major road and rail networks cannot provide the answer to the Netherlands’ accessibility problems any longer. The investment strategy must better reflect people’s changing travel needs, make more use of new technologies and be more sustainable. This is the overall conclusion of the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure’s advisory report ‘Better and Different Mobility: Investing in mobility for the future’, which was presented today to the Minister and the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management.

Expanding the main transport infrastructure is no longer the best option

The Netherlands has one of the most well-developed transport networks in the world, thanks to the high levels of investment in the infrastructure. However, widening and building new roads and expanding the rail network is no longer the most effective way to resolve transport bottlenecks. Accessibility is better served by making different use of the infrastructure and developing new means of transport. Although this conclusion is widely endorsed by both academics and politicians, the vast majority of government funding for mobility is still spent on expanding the national road and rail networks.

Policy reforms are not having the desired effect

The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure investigated why various policy reforms are not resulting in the most effective use of the available funds and found three causes. Existing rules and agreements are frustrating the reform process. Moreover, the mindsets of those involved are heavily influenced by established and entrenched practices. Lastly, national, provincial and local governments and transport companies tend to operate primarily in the interests of their own specific mandates. These phenomena are not unique to the mobility sector, but are inhibitory factors in all fundamental transition processes and make it hard for new parties with forward-looking solutions to get a foot in the door. This in turn inhibits the development of sustainable combinations of transport modes that make use of suitable technologies and provide travellers with adequate services.

National government must promote a change of culture

The Council argues that the national government must be more forceful in promoting a change of culture. It can do this by giving new parties greater opportunities to enter the mobility market, by modernising the outdated rules in an Accessibility Act, and by putting mobility needs at the heart of policy instead of the knee-jerk response of expanding the road and rail networks. The Council therefore believes the latest coalition agreement is a missed opportunity, because it again takes the old approach, with a rigid division of resources between existing modes of transport.

Tackle the root causes of mobility problems

At the moment, each public authority invests mainly in its own part of the mobility system. This makes it hard to pinpoint where the problems arise and in the worst case scenario leads to investments that simply paper over the symptoms rather than tackle the root causes. For example, queues on motorways are generally caused by problems elsewhere in the regional transport network, and that is where the investments should be made. But this will only be possible if the rules permit it and public authorities are prepared to pool their resources – where necessary relinquishing control and budget responsibility – in order to make the appropriate investments.

Sustainability makes new demands on mobility

Personal transport is no longer simply a matter of quick and comfortable trips from A to B; sustainability targets such as greenhouse gas emissions, environmental quality and physical footprints increasingly impose constraints and conditions upon mobility solutions. That is why Rli argues that sustainability should be given a key role in the determination of an investment strategy.