The DfT accessibility statistics have recently been published representing conditions in October 2013. Describing these as accessibility statistics is perhaps a misnomer since what they show is the travel time between each residence in the UK and a range of destinations. DfT say that they will now rename the statistics national travel time statistics which will be a more accurate representation of what they actually are. However it is important that this does not become a scaling down of the original aspirations for what the statistics could be. Cost, security, and physical barriers are at least as important as travel time when considering access, and could be added to the national national statistics as new data about these factors becomes available.
It is now 10 years since the Central and Local Government Working Group on Accessibility Planning agreed the current specification for the statistics. In 2004 various central government departments, local government, and the team led by DHC all had different views about which statistics were most useful. The compromise was to publish all of the indicators to ensure that the preferences of government and business could all be met. As a result over 120 different types of accessibility statistic have been published for each neighbourhood. In 2004 it was never envisaged that so many indicators would continue to be published year after year, but rather the indicators which were found to be most useful would be retained. However, in the absence of a clear consensus on the most useful indicators since then DfT has continued to publish all of the indicators. The publication of the DfT statistics is in large spreadsheets, so to make selected statistics more easily usable DHC maps of the statistics most widely used in development planning. This ensures that users can easily check the competitiveness of public transport relative to car travel which is a requirement of planning policy.
Since 2004 the team at DHC has been calculating the statistics and this involves aggregating many more measures of access to reach the 128 measures which are published. This is a very large computational task using road journey times from GPS and mobile phone tracking and public transport timetables from the national database of services published by Traveline. Separate journey times are calculated at half hour intervals throughout the day to develop a representative time and frequency, taking account of regular delays due to congestion and public transport service schedules.
Looking forward there is a need to develop the statistics and their presentation to make them more useful. Government performance and audit frameworks at local and central levels can continue to use travel time to check that average journey times to key services are improving. The travel time statistics will continue to be useful for this if applied to meaningful journey purposes of opportunities being reached at destinations. Care is needed on how to segment employment markets, and for representing healthcare, education, shopping and transport nodes for onward connections to other services.
Planning access for citizens and customers, not just transport, is essential for economic competitiveness and community action. This requires more dimensions of access to be represented. DHC is looking at new ways to achieve this more accurately using available data through current projects in the UK and Europe, so that everybody interested in the quality of transport can check that the needs of all people are being met and can plan action to close gaps where these are identified. We are always pleased to hear from people who share this vision of more people focused service delivery.