Moving in the right direction: creating a more inclusive approach to transport projects

A collaboration between the University of Oxford Transport Studies Unit (TSU) and the transport engineering firm Jacobs is bringing together the worlds of academia and industry to address transport inequalities.

Dr Anna Plyushteva (School of Geography and the Environment) and Sherin Francis (Principal Transport Planner, Jacobs) connected after Sherin reached out to learn more about the TSU’s work on inclusive transport.

“I was working on projects and wondering – why isn't this more inclusive?” says Sherin. “I realised there was a gap in the industry of mainstreaming inclusion in current and future projects. Confronting that is interesting, because it means challenging norms that have been in practice for years.”

Building a fairer system from the ground up

Since the 1970s, transport projects have been assessed on the benefits they contribute to the local and national economy, but the impact of the distribution of these benefits among social groups is rarely considered. From cycle lanes to train stations, transport schemes often have the greatest benefit for those who already have privileged access to mobility, while those from marginalised groups tend to get left behind.

“We are looking at age, disability, race, ethnicity, sexuality as well as gender,” Anna explains. “We are exploring how those markers of identity intersect to produce transport disadvantage.”

“For example, safety can be a barrier for a woman using public transport late at night or early in the morning. But it is not enough to think about ‘men’ and ‘women’ when analysing the barriers people face. Because in that same situation, a disabled woman will face distinctive barriers, as will a woman living on a low income, or one travelling with children.

A new way of assessing transport projects

We come from two very different organisations, but we are both passionate about making sure that people have equal and better access to transport
Dr Anna Plyushteva

To ensure fairer outcomes for all, the way projects are measured and assessed needs to change. However, so far, very little of the existing research has been translated into practical resources to make that change happen. Anna and Sherin decided early on that they wanted to develop a tool that would make a practical difference.

With the support of Lancashire County Council, they are using the Pennine Reach bus scheme as a testing ground to co-develop an Inclusive Transport Infrastructure Appraisal (ITIA) toolkit to measure the inclusivity of transport schemes before they are approved. They hope to present a draft toolkit to regional and national stakeholders in 2023.

Working together means bringing together expertise from two very different worlds.

“Sherin works with public transport authorities,” Anna explains. “She knows what their priorities are, the constraints they work within, and she can speak to those. None of this could have happened without her involvement.”

“Anna brings a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the world of academia – the key principles, the ideologies, the conceptual framework,” says Sherin. “Whereas I understand what local transport authorities feel challenged by – the political nuances, the funding problems.

“We come from two very different organisations, but we are both passionate about making sure that people have equal and better access to transport. The fact that we have that shared vision means we can keep striving to make it happen.”