All You Need To Know About The Exeter Transport Strategy
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Photos by Sofy Robertson
Yesterday evening, I attended a consultation on the Exeter Transport Strategy at County Hall, organised by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce.
The event was well-attended by representatives from local businesses, including recently appointed Chairman of ExIST Clodagh Murphy, Ben Norman from Exeter College, Maxine Goodey from AES Sustainability Consultants and Andrew McNeilly from the Guildhall Shopping Centre.
Heading the discussion were Devon County Council’s Transportation Strategy & Road Safety Manager, Jamie Hulland and DCC’s Principal Transport Planning Officer, Will Pratt.
The Exeter Transport Strategy, a fourteen-page document available on Devon County Council’s website, outlines a ten-year plan to develop the city’s transport infrastructure in-line with the city’s rapid growth and economic success.
Exeter now has the second largest travel to work area (geographically) in the country, the first being Cambridge and between 2005-2015, the city has seen a population increase of 34,000. Over the last seven years, Devon County Council has delivered £75 million of transport infrastructure, the details of which can be seen below.
Devon County Council have delivered a significant part of the existing strategy and have acknowledged that “changing technology and a better understanding of travel habits” have led to a need to “refresh” the transport strategy to “better reflect current trends, priorities and the needs of communities”. (Devon County Council’s Exeter Transport Strategy Draft)
The key parts of the Exeter Transport Strategy can be found below, along with additional information from Jamie Hulland and Will Pratt at yesterday’s Chamber consultation.
Current Travel Trends In Exeter
Between 2001 and 2011, Exeter has seen an increase of 7,500 people travelling into the city from outside areas for work. There has also been significant job and housing growth in the area. Despite this, traffic levels on key routes into the city have not increased. Although congestion levels are difficult to measure, data suggests that conditions are unchanged during the morning peak hour but congestion has risen slightly in the afternoon/evening peak hour.
The stability of traffic levels on key routes into the city is largely accounted for by Exeter residents shifting to sustainable modes of travel. The majority of Exeter residents now travel to work by sustainable modes. The diagram below outlines the latest figures of car use to commute to work in the city.
Outside of Exeter, Newton Abbot, Tiverton, Cullompton and Honiton are projected to experience significant growth, as well as the new town of Cranbrook which is predicted to grow to a size similar to Tiverton. The plan states that additional travel demand within these towns and towards Exeter “will need to be accommodated sustainably”.
In addition to commuter travel, shopping and leisure trips have been identified as significant contributors to congestion. This is particularly evident in the PM congestion peak where there is a near 50/50 split of commuter and shopping and leisure trips.
The Key Themes of the Exeter Transport Strategy
The “ambitious, but ultimately realistic” proposals of the strategy are embodied in three key themes:
- Greater connectivity
- Greater places for people
- Greater innovation
A central part of this will be creating a “comprehensive, accessible and coherent” cycle and pedestrian network that connects key economic hubs to residential areas and transport interchanges. The document projects that 50% of trips made within the city will be made on foot or by bike. This compliments the Sports England Local Delivery Pilot and Exeter’s aspiration to become the most active city in the country.
Continuing the theme of greater connectivity, the plan proposes Park & Ride sites on all key corridors. This would mean the creation of four additional Park & Ride sites to capture incoming commuter traffic from all areas into the city.
The proposed closure of Sowton’s Park & Ride by Exeter City Council was discussed at yesterday’s meeting, with Will and Jamie rebutting the plans and explaining that a marginal relocation would be preferable in order to continue to capture the East Devon commuters but avoid congestion.
Furthermore, the regularity of rail and bus links to commuter towns such as Tiverton and Crediton could be increased, with half hourly train services, rather than the existing hourly services, and fifteen and thirty minute bus frequency as opposed to some existing hourly services.
In order to remain nationally connected, the transport strategy aims to retain and enhance key corridors, such as the M5 J29-J31/Splatford Split and the A3052/A376 corridor towards the M5 J30 and Exeter.
Greater places for people
Will explained that the strategy has targeted “people focused design” to improve the health and wellbeing of Exeter’s citizens. Key strands of this include incentivising uptake of greener technology to reduce pollution and improve air quality, as well as new street design to emphasise sustainable travel and create a more attractive environment. DCC also aim to work with bus operators to roll out modern, cleaner vehicles with WiFi to enable productive travel.
One of the most well-received proposals at last night’s meeting was the introduction of a single ticketing platform. This would promote convenient multi-modal travel, cut costs for the individual and encourage usership of public transport as opposed to car travel.
Will and Jamie also discussed working with leading innovators who are developing real-time technology to assist users in finding alternative routes and providing better information and predictions about their journeys and journey times.
Another welcome announcement was the review of parking charges for off-peak travel to encourage longer stays in the city and discourage peak period travel.
Discussion of the Exeter Transport Strategy
Andrew McNeilly raised the issue of traffic and congestion caused by school drop-off and pick-up runs. Will explained that currently ‘the school run’ has very little impact on the city’s traffic and congestion, to which Andrew asked why school holidays showed such different traffic patterns? Jamie responded, explaining that people change their work patterns to account for school holidays, with more people taking holiday time themselves or choosing to work from home or work more flexible hours, thus accounting for the changes in traffic experienced during school holidays.
Although the school run accounts for a portion of traffic and congestion, Will and Jamie pointed out that this was a part of overall commuter traffic as many people drop off and pick up their children on their routes to and from work. The idea of a ‘flexi-time’ for schools was proposed as a potential solution to ease congestion at peak times, an admirable idea, but one that would undoubtedly cause additional headaches for schools, many of which already provide breakfast and after school clubs to account for parents’ working and commuting needs.
One of the major difficulties for the plan, and thus the city, is the high volume of commuters from rural areas who drive into the city. As one of these commuters, I can see the difficulties from both sides. The village where I live has absolutely no public transport. My nearest rail link is in the next village, a thirty-minute walk away, and is a viable option for off-peak travel (social and shopping trips at weekends, for example) but in terms of commuting into the city, the first available direct train arrives at Exeter Central at 9:52. My other option is a ten-minute drive to the nearest town where I can pay to park my car, and then hop on the bus to central Exeter and then change onto a second bus to get to our Pynes Hill Office. Commuting via public transport is therefore not impossible for me, living in a rural community, but my travel time would be doubled (at least) and I would be very unlikely to make it in for my 8:00am start.
Increasing Park & Ride points is the main strategy outlined to reduce the volume of rural commuters bringing cars into the city, in addition to more Park & Change points. The rest of the onus was put back on individual businesses to implement home-working and flexi-time practices, schemes that are fantastic within their own rights, but which are used at the discretion of the employer, rather than the employee.
There was much discussion of ‘carrots’ vs ‘sticks’; Will and Jamie were keen to promote the former and incentivise greener travel rather than implement ‘stick’-like strategies, such as congestion charges, that penalise the worker and do not take into account factors such as salary.
A scheme that was rolled out in Nottingham was discussed, whereby businesses are charged by the council for their parking spaces and this money is then used to fund greener travel, in Nottingham’s case a tram system.
Incentives for individual companies to promote and reward greener travel were also discussed; from ideas such as businesses rewarding their employees for green travel through bonus schemes or raffle draws to teaming up with electric bike and car providers to provide a green vehicle for work use. It was also suggested that Devon County Council or Exeter City Council could reward businesses for their employees greener travel, with David Greensmith from Glen King PR suggesting some sort of scoring or rating system that would encourage businesses to compete with each other for the greener good.
Overall, it was an illuminating evening and one which demonstrated how many contrasting views are held about transport in the city. There is much to be considered to meet the demands of Exeter’s growing working and living population, not to mention the city’s climate aspirations.
The consultation evening highlighted the importance of having a say and creating a dialogue between policy makers and those whom the policies will affect: the residents and workers of Exeter and Greater Exeter. I therefore strongly encourage readers to do just that; let your views be heard. As the strategy is still within its draft stages, you are able to have your say about the ideas it proposes via the online questionnaire.
If you would like to read the full draft of The Exeter Transport Strategy, click here.