Local and regional authorities across Europe are seeking ways to tackle their carbon emissions by improving public transport, fostering clean mobility and increasing cycling and walking rates. Reinventing complex transport systems will require the involvement of all end-users and stakeholders if the transition is to happen effectively and efficiently. And with public authorities currently looking to quickly adapt their transport systems in response to COVID-19, effectiveness and efficiency are more important than ever.

Citizen engagement has been recognised as vital for ensuring that urban planning interventions have maximum impact, but the process is often viewed as complex, time consuming and costly, with a lack of capacity at regional level for implementing engagement activities. However, the benefits are clear, with participatory processes building acceptance and improving the efficiency of actions by enabling an understanding of end-user needs, as well as of challenges and difficulties that may not be evident to planners and decision-makers. 

Challenges in participatory approaches

Whilst most transport planners would recognise the benefits of citizen involvement, there is often a lack of institutional arrangements, skills and capacity to facilitate and moderate the participatory approach. For the process to be successful it must have clear aims, target the right stakeholders, be implemented at the right time, and with the right measures.

Often, participatory actions come too late, and can be viewed as simple box ticking exercises, with much of the action already planned and citizens asked to contribute to rubber stamp decisions that have already been made. Participatory actions – through online tools, surveys, workshops and town hall discussions – instead need to happen early, and where possible, constant feedback and data collection should be enabled. 

Learning from successful public consultation

Public authorities looking to engage citizens have a number of tools available to them – surveys, websites and meetings amongst others. The public know best their daily routines and challenges, so open and participatory decision-making can help – not hinder – effective actions. Transport planners can ask citizens to identify problems, seek feedback to proposed measures, and open up to blue sky thinking to test public acceptance of novel concepts. 

A number of Interreg Europe projects have considered the challenges of citizen engagement, and have found good practices that can inspire regions to involve stakeholders in innovative ways. Here are four worth highlighting:

Surveying transport behaviour to inform long-term planning

The City of Prague has implemented travel behaviour and traffic surveys to feed into the city’s transport planning. The surveys are carried out every five years and then integrated into the city’s digital transport model. The model enables the capital and the surrounding Central Bohemian Region to respond to emerging needs and adapt their transport systems, based on forecasting done by the City of Prague’s Technical Road Administration. The good practice is being transferred to the city of Nicosia as a result of the InnovaSUMP project;

Collecting feedback to bus route changes

After the opening of a new metro line in Budapest, the city saw the need to re-orient its ground-level public transport to reduce double capacity and save on overall running costs. In order to collect input from citizens, the city initiated a public discussion, creating a dynamic online map to let individuals compare the old and new maps and give feedback on the proposed changes. Seven thousand citizens participated electronically, and physical in person consultations took place in the main municipalities affected by the changes, with municipal actors and NGOs representing citizens.

Proposals with large public support were accepted, whilst the unfeasible suggestions (due to costs or complexity), were rejected. As well as collecting input, the public engagement activities helped to raise awareness of the upcoming changes and got citizens to interact with the newly proposed maps, building up familiarity so that changes were also more widely accepted.

A stakeholder board for SUMP development

The CityConnect project, implemented by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, implemented a stakeholder engagement process to assist it in developing its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, which included a Stakeholder Board of technical experts and lay people to bring a sense of ownership to the effected audiences. The project made use of board meetings, social media and online interactive maps to promote individual projects, inform the public and promote participation. The Authority also worked directly with youth associations to bring the views of young people on board. The participation of stakeholders and citizens enabled the authority to identify more than 300 problems in cycling networks that needed to be improved, directly responding to user needs;

Crowdsourcing novel mobility ideas

The city of Thessaloniki implemented a crowdsourcing campaign to gather ideas from citizens and tourists on how to improve public transport. A website was developed to collect ideas, and give users the chance to vote and comment on submissions. More than 160 submissions were received, and the top twenty ranked ideas were assessed by an expert judging committee to determine the winning ideas, and the feedback received from participants was used by local transport stakeholders to identify potential future activities. 

The good practices featured in this article were gathered from the SMART-MR, InnovaSUMP and PE4Trans projects – be sure to check their project websites for further good practice ideas. If you are interested in learning more about stakeholder engagement, reach out to the Policy Learning Platform team.

Image credit: Photo by Alexandre Perotto from Pexels