Improving Accessibility: Evaluating National Policy

Improving Accessibility: Evaluating National Policy

WINNER OF The Planning for Sustainable Land Use and Transport Award


D Snellen, PBL Netherlands Environmental Protection Agency, NL


We look at improving accessibility and evaluate how (national) policy works at improving accessibility, what type of accessibility is being improved and what options are available to reach better results.


Improving accessibility is one of the main goals of the new Dutch white paper on planning and transport. Not just for the sake of better accessibility, but in order to improve the country’s economic performance and reduce the frustration of travellers and shippers. This is nothing new. Improving accessibility has been a policy aim for years. However, results are clearly not yet satisfactory enough.

Accessibility is a means to an end, not the actual end itself. Although that notion sometimes gets lost in politics, policy and public debate. The tone there is set by newspaper headlines on dreadful days with massive congestion and ill functioning public transport leaving people stranded or stories from mobility and logistics advocates predicting ‘complete gridlock’ is unavoidable if we do not build more roads soon. However, the actual means are quite easy to derive. The gridlock causes economic damage, ill functioning public transport and massive congestion too, and frustrate people in the process of executing their activities. And in addition, poor accessibility deprives people from opportunities to develop and participate in society.

So accessibility has to provide us with many things: prosperity, opportunity and ease of travel. And all of that in a complex interplay between human behaviour, economic logic, infrastructure and transport provision and spatial planning. To the general public good accessibility means easy travel to specific destinations, such as the trip to work or visiting grandmother. For a transport company, it means good connectivity and smooth traffic flow on specific routes. Companies or households looking to relocate may be more interested in the total number of destinations or work force within reach from their future location. And shops and amenities want to be in a location that many people can easily get to.

Policy views accessibility in a way that is closely related to things they can actually influence and that fit best the views of the general public. As a result, accessibility policy at the national level is in the Netherlands almost equal to infrastructure policy, focussing on improving traffic flow on the main roads, increasing travel speeds, making transport networks more robust and increasing connectivity for the most important economic nodes. Distance that is travelled is largely left out of the equation, yet is of crucial importance to provide accessibility in a broad sense: access to economic or social opportunities.

This paper analyses how accessibility is interpreted and operationalised in (national) policy. We will show that it matters which definition is used. We evaluate current policy instruments on their contribution to improving accessibility and we discuss the dilemma’s and trade offs that are inevitably related to policy choices regarding accessibility improvement. The paper concludes with a number of reflections that can help improve policy.


Association for European Transport