Policies and indicators

Measuring accessibility without first clarifying the policy on accessibility could inadvertently create unintended policies. The Audit Commission (UK) (2000, paragraph 8) notes ‘If an organisation does not measure what it values, it will end up valuing what can be measured’. Transport markets and public agencies have a strong tradition of measuring the number of travellers and vehicles, but have been less effective at measuring gaps in coverage and whether the network coverage allows customers access to the places where they need to travel. Across the world it is recognised there is a need to focus on transport investment, to connect up the economy and society. This makes the purpose of transport investment clearer, not just connecting New Zealand for competitive access to international markets, but ensuring that a child has safe access to the school in their neighbourhood.

The starting point for measuring accessibility is therefore to establish to what extent policy is already in place. A review (Chapman and Weir 2008) showed although many statements were made in policy documents about improving accessibility and mobility, the terms were used without clear definition. The review suggested further work was needed to clarify accessibility policy, with the Ministry of Transport coordinating action and liaising with other ministries and regional authorities on policy development.

In order to progress these actions within the context of improving New Zealand accessibility, three main aims have been identified as follows:

·         Harmonise policy across ministries and government including the specific roles at national, regional and local levels. This would include identifying and setting appropriate accessibility indicators, standards and targets. This is an ambitious goal, but even if full policy harmonisation is not achieved, it is still practical for different ministries to agree on shared or overlapping goals as has been demonstrated in the UK (DHC and UoW 2004).

·         Specify approaches for measuring accessibility within transport planning and appraisal. This would define the role for accessibility planning as a diagnostic tool to help understand the impact of proposed transport changes on people and businesses including incorporating accessibility modelling within regional transportation models.

·         Ensure all needs are met by identifying specific action required by location, age, culture and gender.

Policy change needs to be carefully managed to ensure balance between the political, technical and economic impacts. Rebalancing mobility and accessibility aims may have major implications for investment programmes. It takes time to manage this change to ensure the new approaches are politically acceptable and affordable.

In most countries with well-defined accessibility policies, eg The Netherlands, Germany and the UK, national accessibility policy defines the detailed accessibility planning requirements for local authorities, rather than explicit quantified national targets and goals. In these countries national government also supports and undertakes analysis of accessibility change over time. Accessibility measures can then be used to identify relationships with wider social and economic trends informing national policy development (Hilber and Arendt 2004).