Britain's biggest business group argues Treasury's Spending Review offers 'golden opportunity to improve the commuter experience' and assist net zero goal
Britain's biggest business group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called on the government to switch gears in its transport and infrastructure investment, in a new report today which outlines a range of recommendations on delivering low-carbon commutes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Significant government interventions have been needed to maintain commuter routes amid the decline in public transport demand caused by the pandemic, including grant support for bus services and emergency funding for railways, the report notes. But rather than trying to rebuild the old system, CBI is urging the government to take this disruption as an opportunity and use the Treasury's upcoming Spending Review to reshape commuter behaviour in line with a greener, low-carbon future.
The report's conclusions draw on extensive consultation with infrastructure delivery firms, transport operators and the wider business community, which led the CBI to favour a move away from short-term, centralised decision-making towards a more flexible and long-term approach, it states.
Produced in collaboration with consultancy giant KPMG, the report outlines a series of recommendations on how to rethink the way state investment is channelled into commuter networks. It urges the Treasury to make longer-term funding allocations available for regional infrastructure in order to enable strategic planning.
It also calls on policymakers to take a fresh approach to decision-making about investment in commuting infrastructure, focusing on how whole programmes of projects can work together to transform regional economies and meet the UK's net-zero ambitions. And it urges a sharper focus on driving delivery, as well as increasing investment, through improved planning capacity and capability within local areas.
"Commuter behaviours have undergone a sea-change this year, and the likelihood is they will never revert to past patterns or previous numbers," said Matthew Fell, chief policy director at the CBI. "This has created challenges for operators, but opportunities too for the UK to reassess its transport investment. Commuters of the future will want flexible, reliable and green travel options. If the UK is to deliver the world-class infrastructure needed to meet the changing patterns of demand tomorrow, it must embed long-term shifts into its policymaking today."
He added: "The upcoming Spending Review offers a golden opportunity to improve the commuter experience, shift the dial on levelling-up and accelerate progress towards net-zero."
The government has been criticised for mixed messaging around future transport infrastructure in recent months. Climate campaigners welcomed a £2bn fund to encourage active travel such as cycling and walking by providing bike lanes, widening pavements, and bringing forward sharing economy infrastructure such as scooter rentals, announced in May. But a £27bn road-funding programme, announced around the same time, has drawn flak for being as out of step with the country's overarching green transport goals.
Meanwhile, a recent survey found that 80 per cent of companies plan to retain working from home as an option after the coronavirus pandemic, signalling a sea change in the daily commute.
The government was considering a request for comment at the time of going to press, but for its part the Department for Transport is gearing up to publish its long-awaited Transport Decabonisation Plan this autumn, which is expected to signal a step-change in the way transport is prioritised strategically in a bid to bring down private car use.
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