Travel Time Delays and Competitiveness

The relationships between travel delays and competitiveness are complex. In a recent project for the Office of the Road and Rail Regulator (ORR) with Transport Futures, delays on the strategic road network across Europe were compared.

Competitive locations depend on transport providing effective support for the vitality of places where there is an actual or potential to attract economic activity. Transport changes re-distribute economic activity from one place to another because economic activity locates in the more accessible areas if all other factors are equal. Travel time delays introduce a temporal dimension to the competitiveness of locations. Successive revisions to transport appraisal and performance metrics have placed more emphasis on these complex competition effects. Framework analyses using multiple criteria enable informed decisions about how transport affects competitiveness, but increasingly widespread data now make more rigorous analysis more affordable.

There are many potential sources of link speed data, but the source most widely used by the public is the journey times available from Google Maps. Google’s Android system operates about half of the mobile phones in the UK and 90% of smartphones globally. These phones are precisely located and tracked on the road network when travellers have activated location services (roughly 85-90% of travellers). The Google data therefore represents by far the world’s largest source of data showing the journey times on the road network. Given the multiple occupancies of many road vehicles more than half of all vehicles on the UK road network are being tracked. Google offers several types of license to use this data. Uses which add value to the data in the public interest are particularly attractively priced which is helpful for transport planning.  In the past, one of the greatest costs in measuring and calibrating travel times for use in transport analysis has been data assembly.

The work for the ORR is probably the largest comparative study yet undertaken of journey times in Europe. DHC Loop Connections have been helping government departments to monitor journey times for over 20 years including contributing to the national travel time statistics since 2006. The latest analysis for ORR is the largest and most accurate representation yet undertaken of the UK’s strategic road network. Travel delays affect competitiveness when labour, supplier or customer catchments are reduced eroding flexibility and efficiency, particularly for some sectors of the economy.

Places with strongly growing economies attract travel from across a wider catchment and tend to exhibit greater differences between peak and off-peak travel times than places with weak and declining economies. On the one hand road traffic delays can therefore tend to be associated with places with strong economies, but on the other longer journey times can decrease the ability of places to continue to thrive. As global competition grows these effects are becoming more important, more complicated, less easy to manage, and more influenced by wider factors. Travel delays cannot be used to represent all of the important economic and social factors associated with transport supply, but they can provide a useful input to the planning of improved transport and competitiveness. The approaches used in this new review for ORR have potential for much wider deployment in planning, appraisal and monitoring of transport systems.

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