ITC explores the consequences of a 24/7 society
What will be the transport and land use consequences of a 24/7 Society?
Following the Government’s recent initiative to encourage more flexible working patterns, the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) has been investigating the consequences of a 24 hour 7 day Society for transport and land use. Timed to coincide with the launch of a new Occasional Paper, the ITC hosted a Discussion Evening to look at this subject on 14th April 2011. The debate welcomed more than 40 senior experts from the road, rail, engineering, technology, academic, land use and local government sectors.
Kris Beuret OBE, director of Social Research Associates, chaired a panel comprising Steve Agg, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport; Professor Marion Roberts of the University of Westminster; and Professor John Worthington, Director of the Academy of Urbanism.
To open the evening, a panel of expert guest speakers floated ideas on different aspects of the 24 hour society, explaining the consequences for logistics, social cohesion, safety and urban form. In the robust discussion that followed there was considerable disagreement over the merits of moving towards a 24 hour society, but also widespread acceptance that this was an situation for which the transport and land use sectors will need to prepare.
What will be the transport and land use consequences of a 24/7 Society? Key issues raised by the speakers:
- Adapting to the 24/7 Society is chiefly about a new way of thinking and behaving. A more flexible working day and week will involve a paradigm shift in our mindsets. Work will become outcome-centred, while the office will be something we do rather than a place we go. Distinctions between work and leisure will become less compartmentalized, while tasks will be increasingly undertaken in parallel rather than sequentially. The consequences for urban form will be dramatic, with less zoning according to space and time.
- We may see the death of distance but not of travel. There will be a continuing need for physical meetings and exchanges: not only for networking purposes but also to build trust. However, the ways we do this will become more flexible and varied. Convenience will be measured by door-to-door trip time and comfort, and we may see greater demand for the ability to work on the move.
- The way we think of cities and use our infrastructure will change. As the traditional working day and week dissolve we will in all likelihood see overlapping use of infrastructure, and the development of new place types with multiple purposes. Universities, for instance, may develop double shifts, while stadia are already developing multiple uses as regional destinations and park-and-ride terminals. Yield management will have an important role to play in catering for changing patterns of demand. Meanwhile, cities will become less dense, more polycentric, and regional in form, while the most successful buildings will be adaptable for many purposes.
- Transport provision for night travel is currently poor. Outside London public transport at night is limited, parking is expensive and inadequate, taxis are oversubscribed, and there are serious safety concerns. Transport should seek to remedy the barriers of safety and cost that currently prevent more people going out at night.
- Regulation is holding back the further adaptation of freight to 24 hour living. The freight and logistics industry has already been adapting well to a 24/7 Society. However, it faces barriers from regulation designed for conventional working patterns, and based around a 7am working startup. With the 2012 Olympics around the corner opportunities exist to pilot a more flexible regulatory approach, and this should be embraced so that we can make better use of capacity.
- We need to make sure that our systems do not create social barriers to 24 hour living. Currently the night-time economy is dominated by the young and by alcohol-related activities. The downside of this is disorderly behaviour, violence, increased road traffic accidents, and a climate of fear for older generations and the vulnerable who feel excluded from urban spaces. We should encourage business and government to address these issues so that a 24 hour Society brings benefits for all groups.
Key themes raised in the discussion:
- A 24 hour Society is both a problem and an opportunity. Some attendees expressed discomfort at the consequences of 24 hour living, while others pointed out that flexible working had brought great benefits to women, families, and those with disabilities. In addition, 24 hour living had massive potential to spread the peak and thus make better use of both public and private infrastructure. Attendees pointed out that transport could shape society as well as serve it, and that a 24 hour society presented us with an opportunity to build a truly sustainable transport system.
- Inadequate transport provision for a 24/7 Society can worsen social problems. We should ask whether it is possible to have 24/7 living without social exclusion, and consider whether our current night-time or day-time economies alienate certain sections of society. We need to consider how better transport provision can help overcome these barriers. There was disagreement around the idea that 24 hour living was a middle-class activity, with some noting that the agents of change, such as mobile phones and laptops, were embraced by all classes.
- A 24/7 Society involves staying in as well as going out. While much of the discussion focused by the consequences of going out at different hours, others noted that flexible hours also involved more work, shopping and leisure activities happening at home. We therefore also need to consider the logistical and freight consequences of servicing those activities.
- The effects of the 24/7 Society will be different in London, provincial cities, and rural areas. We should be aware of the different challenges faced in urban and extra-urban areas. London is a cheap place to visit and be entertained, so it attracts international visitors to sample its nightlife. In the provinces transport provision is much poorer, while requirements in rural areas will be different again.
- Noise remains one of the greatest obstacles to the 24 hour Society. Much of our current regulation restricting 24 hour transport provision is related to the problem of noise. The industry should look at technological solutions to reducing noise from all aspects of transportation and freight, from reversing lorries to noisy trolleys.
- The Olympics will provide a trial run for the 24 hour Society. Attempts to manage transport demand during the Olympics will involve new initiatives to overcome the regulatory and noise barriers to 24 hour transport provision. At the same time there are other current difficulties, particularly the costs associated with safety and night-time labour, that will make this a challenge.
- Moves towards a 24/7 Society will involve both market forces and policy changes. Examples of policy issues were removing night-time delivery restrictions, thinking about pay structures in the transport industry, especially resistance to flexible working embedded in the concept of ‘overtime’ and unsocial hours, and the potential for congestion charging to ‘spread the load’ on transport systems. Market forces, through increased off-peak travel demand and cost savings from better use of our infrastructure, will also have a role to play in driving provision.
It was agreed that many aspects of the 24/7 society were already with us and there was an urgent need to address the implications of this for transport policy. At the moment there is a gap in awareness of this issue. The danger is therefore that we see incremental adaptation rather than the strategic approach necessary if UK plc is to compete with other fast growing economies. The ITC Paper and discussion have raised important national and local policy issues which now need exploring in greater depth.