Online Event Recap: What lessons have we learned in 2020 that will make transport networks more sustainable for the future?
by Bill Freeman
2020 will certainly go down as a year we hadn’t wished, expected or planned for, but from many of the conversations we have had with CTA members we’ve seen a strong appetite for drawing out lessons learnt and keeping hold of the good from everything that has happened. At our last Big Questions, Big Ideas event of 2020 we thought we would explore this further with the help of people working in different fields whose work nevertheless touched the worlds of our members.
We asked each member of our panel to talk about what they have been seeing and learning over the year in their area of work, what that means for community organisations that provide transport and the communities they serve and what lessons there are for future policy and practice. We wanted to consider how we could solve problems that had been put on hold during the pandemic or made worse by it and also how our responses to the pandemic may have shown the way in how to address some of those problems.
Our first contributor was Dr Mark Beecroft from the Centre for Transport Research at the University of Aberdeen. Mark talked us through the impact of the pandemic on transport noting its effects on independent mobility and social inclusion especially of vulnerable groups such as older and disabled people. He also gave a fascinating insight into the theory and ideas about what kind of thinking is required when you emerge from scenarios that have a massively disruptive effect, as this pandemic has. His call to action was on the need for a more collaborative approach to transport planning that brought in a diversity of voices. It is certainly our view that community transport should be properly valued and recognised as an essential part of an integrated passenger transport network, alongside active travel, that can meet all needs in a better way. This should lead to more consultation and involvement on developments that relate directly to transport or other areas of policy where community-led transport provision could help.
Our next contributor was Ally McInroy, Chief Executive of Technology Scotland. Ally talked about the impacts of the pandemic on transport with a focus on shared and demand-responsive services. He also gave an introduction to the concept of Mobility as Service, which is the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand. Ally sought to demystify a lot of the language and ideas around such initiatives and show how community transport could fit into a such an approach. He also acknowledged that more needs to be done to fully appreciate the applicability of this in a rural context, where travel options are fewer and there may be a stronger role for community-led initiatives.
As we are as much about community as we are transport it was fitting that our third contributor came at our question from our community perspective. Jan Garrill is Chief Executive of Two Ridings Community Foundation and is one of 46 community foundations around the UK. The aim of the foundation is to inspire giving to support the #SmallButVital charitable organisations in North and East Yorkshire via funds donated by individuals, businesses, government and other charitable trusts and foundations. Community foundations have been at the heart of the pandemic response, providing timely, essential funding – either via funds from National Emergencies Trust or raised through their own trusted relationships with donors. Jan discussed the support they had provided to community transport in her area and identified what learning she thought we could take as a sector from the experiences of the last year.
Jan felt the work our members had done during the pandemic should provide the evidence to make a better funding case to trusts and foundations. Her perception was that trusts and foundations may have previously favoured projects over services and not seen how the work of community transport aligned with outcomes they wished to see on issues such as tackling rural poverty and isolation. She highlighted how the response to the pandemic was leading to a rethink in policy circles about the value of investing in social infrastructure – the institutions and places that connect people with community life – and we needed to make sure community transport was part of that.
We agree that community transport is a vital community asset which should be integral to conversations about what makes a great place and wider considerations about quality of life and our collective well-being. We’ll continue our work with Jan and other funders to open up more opportunities for community transport to access support and be involved in local collaborative initiatives.
In looking at what our audience were saying in the discussion, we saw a range of ideas and inspiration about what 2021 might hold. Clearly, there was concern about sustainable funding and the need for leaders and managers to not ignore the need for self-care amongst all the other things they were giving attention to. Aspirations included making the most of relationships formed through the pandemic, doing more to address rural poverty and to support mental health and wellbeing.
I like events when you leave with more questions than you arrived with and this event felt like that. Our panel gave us plenty to think about in plugging our sector into important conversations about the future of transport and the future of our communities and we look forward to carrying this forward with everyone in 2021.
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