Institute of Asset Management response to the UK Government’s transport decarbonisation plan

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10 Aug 2021

Institute of Asset Management response to the UK Government’s transport decarbonisation plan

The Institute of Asset Management welcomes the release of the UK Government’s transport decarbonisation plan Decarbonising transport: a better, greener Britain. It is a clear, timely and ambitious statement of intent. However, the monitoring of performance and auditing of outputs against objectives are fundamental to good asset management; we therefore call on the Government to set clear, detailed, and unambiguous output objectives for transport decarbonisation and combine this with an ongoing commitment to regular, timely and transparent reporting of output delivery from this plan.

The climate emergency is a critical topic for transport and our institute. The IAM is committed to supporting members, governments, and other decision-making bodies by leading action in the asset management community through developing and sharing best practice, with the aim of embedding an asset management approach in climate action plans.

The foundation of good asset management is the consideration of a long term, whole life, whole system approach – avoiding functional, organisational, and technical boundaries that can lead to sub-optimal solutions. These principles provide the basis for addressing the climate emergency through effectively and sustainably ensuring that all assets and infrastructure activities have minimal or no impact on our climate.  Better still, they reverse some of the damage already occurring.

Decarbonising transport: a better, greener Britain is clear on the benefits of transport decarbonisation; improved air quality, reduced congestion, improved journey times, reduced costs, and improved productivity. The plan is also realistic on the risks of poorly implemented decarbonisation, such as potential higher costs, increased congestion, and travel disruption. The IAM supports the view that these risks must be pragmatically and proactively managed to ensure that the full benefits of decarbonisation are realised and believe good asset management, in its broadest sense, is a holistic solution to achieving this.

The plan makes a welcome and explicit link between local infrastructure funding and decarbonisation. The establishing of a clear, reportable line-of-sight between inputs and objectives is one of the fundamental principles of good asset management. We look forward to seeing this principle in action and continue to develop guidance to support organisations and asset management professionals implementing this.

The importance of demand analysis is also reflected in the plan, and there is recognition that transport demand patterns may change dramatically. The changes in working practices brought about by the pandemic have demonstrated that it is possible to work effectively in many sectors with reduced travel. The approach to carbon reduction should factor in the potential for appropriate use of telecommunications technology as an alternative to travel, recognising that this in itself is not carbon free.

The plan appears to accept that road transport will continue to dominate, rather than seeking to drive behavioural change and reduce this. Beyond existing initiatives to encourage modal shift towards walking and cycling, there is a lack of ambition to drive fundamental change in our transport habits and the need for excessive transportation of goods. This is a missed opportunity to set out bold objectives to move beyond our dependence on roads and consider initiatives to reduce the need for transport.

Nevertheless, the focus on road transport means the plan describes a clear pathway on how to decarbonise this sector. There is recognition that vehicle electrification alone, while highly desirable, may not deliver full decarbonisation. The source of the electricity is a key factor, as is the means of delivering it to the point of use, clearly underlining the need for consideration of the underlying infrastructure supporting transport decarbonisation.

While the proposed investment in bus infrastructure and access to travel information is welcome, it is not clear if this will significantly contribute to the desired modal shifts and carbon reduction. Likewise, while we welcome the focus on addressing delivery traffic, it is not the whole story. We would like to see a more holistic ambition, embracing the whole transport sector including strong commitments to decarbonise air and maritime transport.

The plan cannot be considered in isolation if we are to truly drive carbon emissions down in transport. The emissions associated with construction of transport infrastructure are explicitly outside the scope of the document. We note the Department for Transport (DfT) has initiated a carbon management programme to manage whole life carbon of infrastructure projects including emissions. The asset management decision making must consider whole life carbon cost. Capacity forecasting and demand management to optimise the type and timing of investment will be key as will the timing of asset renewal such as fleet replacement. Use of materials with lower carbon cost in manufacture must be a central element of the overall approach whether related to the infrastructure or the vehicles that use it.

The UK Government’s transport decarbonisation plan is welcome and while significant it only gives part of the plan to move to a truly zero carbon transportation system for the UK. If the goals are to be delivered the Government must ensure the infrastructure aspects are addressed at some pace giving an actionable plan across transport for true decarbonisation.

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