Institutional issues in planning for more uncertain futures

Future travel demand has always been difficult to estimate. Recent trends of a slow down or stagnation in traffic growth combined with substantial demographic, economic, and technological shifts further complicate that task. This poses a significant planning challenge given that decision-making is often based on the benefits of infrastructure investments which accrue over periods as long as 60 years. In contrast to the changing ideas around what mobility in the future will look like and the types of demand it may need to service, the practice of forecasting future travel demand remains largely unchanged as do the decision-making processes which flow from this. Alternative approaches to thinking about futures such as scenario planning exist but have had more limited deployment in the transport sector. This paper explores the institutional issues surrounding the purpose, practice and barriers to changing the approaches of forecasting and decision-making through an exploration of the state of practice in the UK drawing on interviews with 23 practitioners. Drawing on Hall’s work on policy change, the research finds that there is a strong policy paradigm built around the relationships between transport investment and traffic growth. This has strengthened since the recession with an increased focus on the relationship between transport and job creation. The forecasting approaches in use today are an important part of a complex decision-making apparatus reflective of specialized policy arenas like transport. Challenges in acknowledging, representing and communicating uncertainty are identified leaving a growing tension between planning visions and planning practice. We conclude by reflecting on events which may stimulate a broader reframing of how we plan for transport futures whilst embracing key uncertainties.

  • Record URL:
  • Availability:
  • Supplemental Notes:
    • © 2019 Greg Marsden and Noreen C. McDonald. The contents of this paper reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Transportation Research Board or the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Authors:
  • Publication Date: 2019-8


  • English

Media Info

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01714440
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jul 25 2019 3:05PM