Speaking at the Travel 2020 exhibition and conference yesterday, Norman Baker MP – Undersecretary of State for Transport – stated that the Government wanted to offer people a “real choice [of] travelling less.” He then stated, with no apparent sense of irony, that he was off to Amsterdam to see what lessons he could learn from trials of such policies in that city.
It has long been assumed that people will chose to travel less as technology develops. The internet, so the argument goes, allows people to communicate and exchange views remotely, and this will reduce the need for travel to work and meetings. Such a reduction, it is hoped, will therefore reduce the strain on transport infrastructure and help deliver a low carbon economy. Therefore, reducing the need to travel becomes a core part of a Government’s transport policy.
However, the evidence does not support the theory. Shortly after the minister had left on his fact finding mission, Nick Illsley, Chief Executive of Transport Direct, paused to review the progress over the past decade against the predictions industry seers made a decade ago. One of the things that had failed to materialise, he concluded, was technology leading to a significant reduction in travel. For the rise in travel across all modes, but especially rail, over the past decade shows that people are making a “real choice” to travel more not less.
Indeed, could it be that the predictions that the rise of the internet will cause a significant reduction in travel are back to front, and that more technology will cause more travel rather than less? For portable technology and mobile networks allow people to be productive on the move and therefore the (productive) time costs of travelling to a meeting are becoming less and less. And the benefits of travelling are undiminished.
For whilst video conferencing, webinars and instant messaging may all have their benefits, “decisions,” to quote Jed Bartlett, thefictional president in the West Wing “are made by those who show up.”