Eltis interview: Providing evidence of the benefits of sustainable transport

By News Editor / Updated: 24 Feb 2016

This month, Eltis interviews transport planning specialist Colin Black, project co-ordinator of the EU-funded EVIDENCE project


Please sum up your project in a sentence

CB: The EVIDENCE project demonstrates the availability of credible research that substantiates opportunity to improve return on investment from public expenditure through a greater focus on sustainable transport interventions.

In what way are politicians and transport planners already benefitting from your project?

CB: We are helping provide political justification for increasing investment on sustainable transport and to stimulate debate about whether we should focus public expenditure on major infrastructure investment at the expense alternatives which appear to be more beneficial.


What are the key resources produced by EVIDENCE?

CB: An easy-to-read summary of the EVIDENCE research findings, which is being translated into all EU languages. A detailed main report and a searchable online database. Short summaries for 22 different categories of sustainable transport initiative. A paper on the limitations of transport appraisalinfo-icon techniques. There are also podcasts, an animated video, and a video of a fascinating roundtable debate held with leading international specialists.

The range of resources – all available on the EVIDENCE website -  are intended to help ensure that the promotion of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) is supported by restructured national /regional funding arrangements, which mean that commitment to develop a SUMP is in future better rewarded with appropriate funding. 

What opportunities are there for others to become involved in the project?

CB: We are looking for professionals interested in helping to organise or host a workshopinfo-icon with key decision-makers and/or politicians across the EU where we can present the EVIDENCE project findings and stimulate a roundtable debate.

We will also work with a number of cities seeking to establish a credible business-case for increasing sustainable transport investment. Finally, we are developing a training module to help transport professionals better understand how to build a robust business case to justify investment in sustainable transport. Do get in touch if you work at a university or for a training provider.

How can people keep up to date with EVIDENCE project activity?

CB: Please do visit our website, join the EVIDENCE LinkedIn group, or follow us on Twitter. I’m also always happy to hear directly via email: colin.black@arcadis.com 

Name one development/innovation that you think will impact urban mobilityinfo-icon in Europe over the next five years.

CB: Put it this way: once decision-makers better understand the comparative economic benefits of different types of sustainable transport interventions, much more money will be channelled into improving cycling infrastructure than continued investment in autonomous vehicles.

What is the most interesting mobility-related research you have read recently?

CB: Bent Flyvbjerg (Oxford University) and Cass Sunstein (Harvard University) have written a paper called ‘The Principle of the Malevolent Hiding Hand; or, the Planning Fallacy Writ Large” which is due out in Social Research journal shortly. Their research concludes:

‘…benefit-cost ratios produced by conventional methods to inform investment decisions are typically overestimated by between 50% to 200%. In this context, ex-ante benefit-cost ratios are so misleading as to be worse than worthless, because decision makers might think they are being informed when in fact they are being misinformed. As a consequence, decision makers may give the green light to projects that should have never been started.’

Across Europe there is a push towards investment in big transport projects justified by economic analysis, which may be far less credible than the public is led to believe. This is against a backdrop of considerable and growing research evidence that demonstrates more impressive returns on investment for sustainable transport interventions. 


Colin is a registered Friend of Eltis. You can follow content he posts on Eltis by clicking on ‘Follow’ in his Eltis profile.