How Can the Sustainability of Transport Be Assessed?

How Can the Sustainability of Transport Be Assessed?


A Meaney, C Riley, M Shepherd, Oxera Consulting Ltd, UK


This paper presents a framework to assess the sustainability of a mode of transport, focusing on European high-speed rail operations, assessed in three ways: economic, environmental and social effects. The framework is applicable to other modes.


With ever-increasing concern about the impact of human activity, a framework for assessing the impact and sustainability of all human activities is becoming increasingly important. This paper provides one such framework.
There are many ways of defining sustainability, but this paper considers three possible aspects: economic, social and environmental impacts. Clearly, all of these factors are heavily interlinked. This paper provides an application to the European High Speed Rail operations of members of Railteam (the sales and marketing group for a number of European High Speed Rail operators).
The assessment of economic impacts of an activity can be split further into direct, indirect and wider economic impacts.
? Direct economic impacts consist of changes in journey time and increased productivity (relative to other modes), and amongst others are the subject of well-developed appraisal techniques.
? Indirect economic impacts include factors which do not accrue directly to the passengers, but affect either other passenger groups, or other individuals within the economy?such as reduced externalities (eg, improved safety on the road network due to modal shift to rail, which results in less congested, and hence safer, road networks). The analysis of these factors in the literature is more limited than that of the direct economic impacts, but nonetheless is the focus of a number of publications.
? Wider economic impacts are harder to assess, but are likely to be important (eg, agglomeration benefits, or an increase in competition resulting in improved social welfare). These factors are often neglected in a ?conventional? appraisal, but are beginning to be included due to their (often substantial) importance.
The social impact of high-speed rail operations can be assessed by considering the range of people who use rail services, and the opportunities which these services provide?in particular, if destinations cannot be reached by other modes of transport (for example, if the passenger does not have access to a car), or by enabling the mixing of different social groups. The valuation of these impacts is difficult and often more qualitative in nature.
Finally, transport operations (and construction) have a range of environmental impacts, the effects of which may be local (eg, noise) or global (eg, CO2 emissions). Valuation of these impacts is the subject of a large literature; albeit often with a large range of uncertainty surrounding the values assigned.
Although these environmental aspects are the factors most often associated with ?sustainability?, it is important to consider all of these together when designing policy, in order to avoid creating the incentives to deliver a perverse outcome. Trading these different aspects off against each other is ultimately a political question?but one which transport and economic frameworks can assist with?and this paper sets out one such framework.
The ETC paper will present evidence on the sustainability impacts of Railteam members? services, developed as part of the study for Railteam. It will draw on a wide range of literature, and will be updated for the ETC paper using developments since the report was finalised in December 2009.


Association for European Transport