Assessing accessibility has implications well beyond transport. Health, education and other departments have policies and statutory responsibilities for ensuring access. Ideally transport policies should be compatible with these, but this is rarely achieved in practice without an accessibility planning process to manage the working partnership (FIA Foundation 2004).
Non-transport departments do not generally have well-developed policies and mechanisms for improving accessibility, and responsibility for targeted action is generally perceived to be predominantly a transport issue. Leadership from within the transport sector is therefore needed to tackle the barriers to accessibility assessment.
Accessibility indicators have been widely used in research for many decades but their breakthrough into policy has been more recent due to the growing importance of policy-driven agendas for sustainable development and social inclusion (SEU 2003; Scottish Executive 2000b). These agendas require cross-sector working but issues associated with this include:
· Cross-sector indicators are not wholly within the control of any one policy-making department, eg a health department might set a target that 90% of the population should be within 30 minutes of a health centre but experience shows if road congestion grows making the target unachievable then the target tends to be abandoned rather than cross-sector action being pursued to deliver change.
· Funding streams and progress indicators are closely linked. Accessibility, however, is not dependent on action in any one policy area but reflects both transport and other factors.
· Accessibility is a transparent and user-oriented way of measuring transport which can be sensitive for other sectors if problems arise, eg it will not always be possible for accessibility to improve for everyone so transparent measures can make the process of managing the politics of winners and losers more difficult.
Accessibility planning defines the processes that have been put in place to manage cross-sector working and close the policy gap (SEU 2003). By identifying manageable goals, and using partnership approaches between transport and non-transport departments, the aim is that the long-term decline in accessibility to local services can be tackled.
It should be noted non-transport agencies and departments such as those concerned with health and education will only participate in such partnership approaches if they also have a favourable national policy context within which to operate. The UK has made particularly notable progress in recent years in this regard. The national accessibility planning framework has been delivered across all policy departments and this has been underpinned by audits of accessibility-related policies in health, education, regeneration, land use planning and other policy areas.