Working to make government more effective

Report

How governments use evidence to make transport policy

The government’s ambitious transport plans will falter unless policy makers improve the way they identify and use evidence to inform their decisions.

Bus station

The government’s ambitious transport plans will falter unless policy makers – ministers, civil servants and other public officials – improve the way they identify and use evidence to inform their decisions.

This report compares the use of evidence in the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and New Zealand, and finds that England is an outlier in not having a coordinated transport strategy. This damages both scrutiny and coordination of transport policy.

The government has plans to reform bus services, support cycling, review rail franchising, and invest more than £60 billion in transport projects over the next five years. But these plans are not integrated. The Department for Transport should develop a new strategy integrating different modes of transport, rather than mode by mode, to improve political understanding of trade-offs and scrutiny of policy decisions.

The DfT is a well-resourced department, with significant expertise, responsibilities and a wide array of analysts. But its reliance on economic evidence means other forms of evidence can appear neglected in transport decision making – including social research, evaluation or engineering. Decision makers are often too attached to the importance of the Benefit-Cost Ratio at the expense of other forms of evidence.

The government needs to improve its attitude to evaluation of past projects. There are successes – like the evaluation of the Cycle City Ambition Fund – but they are outnumbered by failures – like the evaluation of projects in the Local Growth Fund.  For example, good practice from Highways England should be common across the transport sector, helped by providing dedicated funding to local authorities to properly evaluate projects.

If the government wants to make a success of transport policies like rail reform and infrastructure investment in order to ‘level up’, the report recommends it:

  • Publishes business cases for all transport projects it funds, including their Benefit-Cost Ratios
  • Ensures that policies and projects, including at local levels, are robustly evaluated and resourced
  • Considers a new strategy integrating different modes of transport rather than individual strategies for road, rail, bus, walking and cycling
  • Learn from the training that countries like Sweden make available for their politicians and civil servants to ensure they understand the insight and limits of transport evidence
Keywords
Transport
Publisher
Institute for Government

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