Recent years have seen a rise in car usage as disposable income has increased per household and motoring costs have not risen significantly so as a result this has led to more cars on our roads. On the other hand public transport costs have increased and a growing number of people do not see public transport as a viable option for their daily commute to work. Since the early 1970s the average distance people travel per year has increased by 50% (DfT, 2009). Within Northern Ireland the car is very popular with 78% of households in Northern Ireland having access to a car and 33% having access to two or more cars. The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 and the new executive set about to introduce a Regional Transport Strategy that would alleviate the problems in Northern Irelands transport system which included problems such as transport disadvantage and social exclusion. The RTS was a ten year plan introduced in 2002 with funding, policies and suggested solutions to Northern Irelands transport problem. Along with the RTS a Regional Development Strategy 2025 was set up in 2001 to aid the government in long-term policy direction. It was later amended in 2008 to cover up until 2035.
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Transport disadvantage and social exclusion have been a problem particularly in rural areas of Northern Ireland as there was a lack of funding and interest from policy makers. The RTS and RDS together included a commitment 'to create an accessible countryside with a responsive transport network that meets the needs of the rural community' (RDS for NI 2025, 2002). The car has become essential to people living in rural areas as without it they would feel socially excluded, 38% in the East and 36% of people in the West of Northern Ireland owned two or more cars compared to Belfast where it was only 18% (Travel Survey for Northern Ireland 2008 -2010). Belfast obviously has better access to public transport than rural areas within Northern Ireland due to a larger amount of investment such as the very successful Translink Metro service which in 2010 had a 30% increase in patronage from when the service began in 2005.
Regional Transport Strategy 2002-2012
The Regional Transport Strategies aim is to develop a sustainable transport system for Northern Ireland. The RTS supports the idea of homes being built near jobs to reduce the need for travel; these areas are known as clusters. By growing the population of Belfast there would be less people travelling in and out of Belfast which results in more road space and greater accessibility to the city. The RTS also focused on tackling congestion and reducing every day journey times. By investing in Northern Irelands transport network the RTS set out to improve existing transport infrastructure e.g. the new Class 4000 trains brought into service by Translink recently.
Policies introduced by the RTS include;
Bus replacement programme (more modern buses with greater access for the disabled)
Rolling stock replacement programme.
RTF (Rural Transport Fund) to reduce social exclusion in rural areas.
Land use policies.
Regional Development Strategy 2035
The RDS aims to provide long-term policy direction and influences the Programme for Government (PfT). One of the main aims of the RDS is to improve connectivity between towns and cities across Northern Ireland. This would allow for better access to business opportunities and provide greater access to services for local communities. Road and rail space needs to be properly managed for example road space can be made available by moving people more efficiently by providing an attractive public transport option. The RDS mentions that the introduction of more park and ride sites will encourage motorists to use the bus or train on their commute to work while reducing traffic volumes, this has been very popular in and around Belfast e.g. Cairnshill Park and Ride. With a vast reduction in public expenditure some of the aims of both the RTS and RDS will be hard to implement and some difficult decisions will have to be made in the near future.
Criticism of the RTS and RDS
There are a number of factors that would allow the RTS to be truly sustainable such as actually providing motorists with an attractive alternative to the car. It would also stabilise and then reduce traffic volumes. Congestion has increased since 2002 and continues to grow. Transport poverty still exists and the two strategies have failed to benefit those who neither have a car or an adequate alternative. Public transport remains expensive and is expected to further increase over the coming years. A report by Friends of the Earth (FOE) in 2002 stated that the proposed 65%:35% funding split in favour of roads is reversed in favour of public transport.
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The RDS recognises that Northern Ireland relies too much on the road network and that this is not sustainable. The car has many advantages as it offers a level of independence to the driver that currently the public transport system in Northern Ireland cannot provide but the damage to the environment and funding to increase or maintain the road network is unsustainable.
The Impacts of Transport Disadvantage
One of the main aims of the RTS is to bring communities together through a good transport infrastructure. Transport disadvantage and social exclusion are not necessarily always related with each other as illustrated by Lucas (2012) as a person may be socially excluded but have access to transport or have no access to transport but not be socially excluded. Also Lucas (2012) states that both transport disadvantage and social exclusion directly and indirectly led to transport poverty. The diagram below illustrates some of the connections between social and transport disadvantage;
Full-size image (84 K)Source: Lucas. 2012. Science Direct. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0967070X12000145. [Accessed 28 November 12].
Communities can become isolated because of transport disadvantage as they are not close to goods or services. Families with low incomes cannot afford to have a large proportion of their income spent on running a car; however some families are prepared to purchase a car as they see it as their only option.
Groups Affected by Transport Disadvantage
There are numerous groups of people affected by transport disadvantage such as the elderly. Hine and Mitchell (2003) recognises that certain groups in particular face difficulties in accessing transport and that this leads towards social exclusion, these groups include the elderly, people suffering from ill health and women. The labour government in 1997 set up a Social Exclusion Unit to look at the problems that exist in society. In 2003 the Social Exclusion Unit identified areas that made public transport inaccessible to certain social groups such as lack of safety, expense and lack of passenger information. The following groups are a few examples of those that suffer from transport disadvantage and social exclusion:
As people get older they become less mobile and their access to a car decreases as a result becoming dependant on public transport or relatives to aid them. As a result of being less mobile elderly people in general make fewer trips than they would have when they were younger. However Public transport may not be an attractive option for the elderly as in 2008 39% of individuals aged 70+ reported having problems walking or using a bus" (DfT 2008).
People under the age of seventeen are not eligible to apply for a driving licence, so they are reliant on their parents or public transport. In 2008 62% of journeys made by children under the age of 16 were as a car passenger (drdni 2008). Public transport can be expensive for young people and they tend to use public transport only when it is necessary. There is a lack of availability of public transport to young people and this affects their social lives, their education and future employment opportunities.
There are a lower number of women in the UK that hold a valid driving licence compared to men. The National Travel Survey 2010 carried out in England, Scotland and Wales showed that 80% of males held a valid driving licence and 66% of females held a licence. Also the National Travel Survey 2010 stated that men travel much further than women but annually women make more trips. Generally women have the primary responsibility for childcare so are not commuting to work every day. However when a woman and child do travel they require a greater amount of space in order to access a mode of transport.
Groups That Are Poorly Located
Northern Ireland has 34.7% of the total population living in rural areas and 20.5% of these people do not own a car (NIEL 2009). The people in these areas rely on public transport if it's available but services are not frequent enough and often not accessible to those who are in most need of them.
Disabled people require a greater amount of space when they travel and public transport is required to provide adequate space for the disabled but the diagram below illustrates the difficulties they have faced when using public transport and taxis.
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Source: (Equality commission NI 2001)
Low Income Groups
Very poor families can be classified in this group and are often families who have suffered unemployment over generations. These families often cannot afford a car and public transport may be accessible but they are limited in their use of the service as it is too expensive. Car ownership is very low among low income groups resulting in social exclusion as they are unable to apply for certain jobs or access other services.
Policy Impacts and Conclusions
The RTS set out to introduce certain policies such as improving transport infrastructure and by 2012 43 new trains have been introduced on all of Northern Ireland railway lines with all the older trains now out of service. The Larne, Derry, Bangor and Portadown lines are still fully operational with patronage remaining high with 77.25 million passenger journeys on Translinks services (bus and rail) over the period of 2011-12. The average bus age of Ulsterbus and Metro is less than eight years with the majority of buses being accessible to disabled people. Currently a Rapid Transit System for Belfast is under consideration and will be introduced in the coming years.
Groups that suffer from transport disadvantage will benefit from policies such as the introduction of the Rural Transport fund and the introduction of new rolling stock as services will be more reliable. Disabled people will benefit from the new buses and trains being more accessible but only if the services are accessible to them in the first place. Certainly in Belfast the disabled and elderly people have benefited since the introduction of the RTS and RDS but rural areas have still been left behind. The idea of clustering towns and cities seems to be the way forward as it is impossible to finance frequent and accessible services in more rural areas.
The National Travel Survey for Northern Ireland 2010, Department for Transport.
Regional Development Strategy 2035, Department for Regional Development.
Regional Transport Strategy 2002-2012, Department for Regional Development.
Running On Empty 2004, Karen Lucas
Investigating links between transport disadvantage, social exclusion and well-being in Melbourne-Preliminary results, Karen Lucas
Sustainable Transport Report 2009, NIEL
Regional Transport Strategy 2011, A Sustainable Transport Future, DRDNI
Planning Policy Statement 13, Transportation and Land Use
Transport Disadvantage and Social Exclusion, 2003
Regional Transport Strategy, Reverse Transport Spending, Friends of the Earth 2002