A wide range of transport strategies have been tested in various European cities. Environmental benefits are a prime motivation, but economic costs, efficiency effects (such as congestion) and public acceptance are important factors in any selection process. This raises two questions:
- what are the optimal measures or combinations of measures, and
- what are the effects of environmental versus economic criteria on the optimal choice?
The overall objectives of project OPTIMA were:
- to identify optimal urban transport strategies for a range of European cities;
- to assess the reasons for differences between these strategies;
- to assess the acceptability and feasibility of implementation of such strategies;
- to use the results to provide more general guidance on urban transport policy within the European Union.
Optimal strategies involve a combination of measures. Also, there is no single best measure or strategy for general application. Nevertheless, some general recommendations can be drawn:
- economically efficient strategies can be expected to include low cost improvements to road capacity, improvements in public transport (increased service levels or reductions in fares), and increases in the cost of car use (either road pricing or increased parking charges);
- public transport infrastructure investment is not likely, in most cases, to be a key element in these strategies;
- reductions in capacity to discourage car use are not likely to be economically efficient;
- the optimal changes in service levels and fares for public transport will depend on the current level of subsidy - in some cases a reduction in service levels or an increase in fares may be justified on economic grounds;
- the optimal increase in costs of car use will depend in part on current levels of congestion;
- in most cases, economically efficient strategies can be designed which are financially feasible, provided that revenues can be used to finance other strategy elements;
- the pursuit of sustainability is likely to justify investment in public transport infrastructure, further improvements to public transport services and/or fares, and further increases in the cost of car use;
- availability of finance will be a major barrier to implementation of many sustainability-optimal strategies.
The main implications are:
- legislation will be needed to enable implementation of road pricing and to control parking charges; in the UK and Italy there is also a case for changing legislation to permit economically more efficient public transport strategies;
- public acceptability will be a significant barrier with those measures, which reduce service levels or increase costs - this implies the need for effective public relations campaigns, and carefully designed implementation programmes;
- detailed local measures to improve the environment and provide better facilities for cyclists, pedestrians and disabled people should be determined once the optimal strategy has been defined at a more aggregate level.