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The public transport system has stagnated

07 April 2021

Previous research has shown that waterborne public transport can reduce both greenhouse gas emission and congestion in cities. Despite this, very little is being done to increase ferry traffic in Stockholm, for example.
A research study from KTH explains why.

The potential of waterborne public transport has been established by several research studies. All in all, the waterways, in combination with connections from parts of the existing road and rail traffic network, constitute a large infrastructure resource that can be used to contribute to more sustainable travel patterns, reduced congestion, shorter travel routes, increased capacity and synergies with bicycle traffic and other city logistics.

So why is it not happening? Why are the ferries in Stockholm not growing in numbers, for example? Instead of refocusing on the potential of ferry traffic as such, the study FLYT 365 Dags att sjösätta förutsättningar för en innovativ kollektivtrafik? examines the mechanisms behind the public transport system's lack of innovation capacity.

According to the report, it has to do with the public transport system as a socio-technical regime. Today's public transport system is well established, which makes it robust and reliable. But such a mature system also has a downside. The analysis shows how established regulations, planning processes, models, tools and socio-economic calculations only allow system changes within established frameworks. The conditions for innovation, in this context the openness to new traffic solutions, will thus be limited. In short, the system stagnates in its development towards a sustainable direction.

In order to bring in waterways and other non-established traffic solutions, a transformation of the public transport regime is necessary. It needs to be more innovative. To succeed in this, it is required that the actors involved in the early planning stages have knowledge and competence about different types of traffic, about technology development and about innovation in general.

The report presents a number of proposals that could contribute to a transformation of public transport's sociotechnical system. Here are some:

• Develop complementary methods for assessing travel forecasts and cost calculations for non-established modes of transport.
• Ensure that these complementary methods are used and that overall impact assessments are carried out.
• Formulate a framework for the level of ambition required in demonstration attempts and the like in order to be able to assess the potential of new innovative traffic solutions. Ensure that consideration is given to the fact that new ideas have a development phase, ie special needs in the establishment phase and expansion phase, respectively.
• Compile and make visible existing knowledge about the public transport system's inability to make room for innovative solutions.
• Establish a competence center on innovations in public transport in general or on water-borne public transport in particular.

The study was conducted by Pernilla Ulfvengren and Mats Engwall (KTH Industrial Economics and Organization), Susanna Hall Kihl (Vattenbussen AB) and Karl Garme (KTH Marina system).

Related content: Read the report (in swedish)

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