Research from our fellows

January 5, 2022

National parks: Four big transport issues and how to fix them

Alistair Kirkbride was awarded a FIT fellowship in 2020

First webinar

Focus on transport issues in national parks is often place-specific (each national park or specific location within) or in reaction to a specific intervention (such as managing post-lockdown surge in visitors) or acute problem (such as emergency vehicles unable to access places due to busy-day congestion). Whilst there are differences between the parks, there are more similarities regarding the chronic and enduring problems. This document tries to step back and focus on four key issues with a summary of what would need to be done to fix them.

1. Visitor travel to and from national parks emits a lot of CO2

What’s the problem?

41% of the Lake District’s (28% of Cumbria’s) total carbon emissions are explained by visitor travel to and from the national park – compared to only 19% by travel within. Nationally, 63% of personal miles travelled for journeys over 50 miles are for leisure purposes. This means that to tackle carbon emissions from transport relating to national parks, we need to look at approach travel.

How to fix it

There are four main ways to fix things:
1. Work with the rail industry to increase capacity for peak visitor times, create visitor-focussed ticketing deals including onward travel, and reduce Sunday and bank holiday closures
2. Work with coach and bus companies to create mainstream and market-specific services, such as for younger adults from cities, day-trip ramblers from local town & cities and services to specific events (fell races, shows etc)
3. Target market for ridesharing via social networks and for events
4. Develop place & market-smart end-to-end journey integration deals – services and fares that allow people to link fast, efficient approach travel with gateway-to-destination onward travel.

2. a. Visitor travel around national parks without a car is fragmented and expensive

What’s the problem?

Whilst public transport is generally good along main corridors, fares are more expensive than equivalent costs for car use (especially for groups), services fall away from the busy corridors and are seasonal, and there is little effective widespread integration across operators and modes.

b. Transport services generally do not serve residents well

What’s the problem?

Many transport services in national parks are designed primarily for visitor markets and travel demands. This means seasonal services with limited early morning / late evening services, visitor-targeted ticketing & fare structures, routings serving the demands of visitors rather than residents, and transport deserts beyond the main hubs and corridors.

How to fix it

Explore a different economic model for widespread, integrated public transport for the specific demands of national parks so that operators recognise the commercial benefits of taking a different approach to service provision. Create Bus Service Improvement Plans for national parks themselves. Design demand responsive services to link less busy areas to scheduled services along corridors – possibly as a development of or in partnership with existing community transport. Actively manage and restrict car access (to busy areas and at busy times as a minimum) not only to reduce congestion but also to redirect revenues to public transport services.

3. High traffic volumes and parking demand inappropriate for the protected landscapes

What’s the problem?

The high volumes of visitors in high season coupled with smaller roads and available parking leads to congestion (often leading to disruption to public transport reliability and access by emergency services and residents), road danger and discouragement of active travel, poor quality visitor experience and landscape blight. Coupled with this is a demand for more car parking which further exacerbates the problems.

How to fix it

Provision & marketing of non-car transport services (buses, cycling, boats etc) alone has been shown not to be sufficient to tackle the problems related to free car access. Frequent, affordable, flexible sustainable transport services should be provided with visitor car restraint; this would allow car access for residents, people with mobility issues and (probably) accommodation drop-off. In the short term, this needs to be done for the busier areas at peak times, but with an intention to extend these into the medium term.

There are sufficient examples of types of places and contexts where this is not only a norm but adds to better quality experiences – such as in various alpine valleys or closer to home in pedestrianised town and city centres. In the last two years, many places have had to trial more interventionist access management, generally to the acceptance or approval of visitors. Indeed, such interventions invite progressive marketing that aligns well with many visitors’ values regarding a desire to protect the landscape.

4. Governance and decision making

What’s the problem?

Glover’s 2019 review of Protected Landscapes for DEFRA specifically identified existing transport governance as a structural barrier to better access and transport services for national parks. The visitor-focus of transport coupled relatively small travel demands compared to the wider scope of existing transport authorities leads to a lack of focussed, effective governance and decision-making for the specific needs and opportunities of national parks.

How to fix it

Glover’s proposal 19 should be implemented through the development of constituted transport partnerships for national parks. These would take on the formal powers over bus service provision, control over transport integration and relevant aspects of highways (access restrictions, speed limits and highways design). They would have the abilities to have independent dialogue with the Department for Transport and other transport bodies; this would require national parks to have their own Local Transport Plan and Bus Service Improvement plans with associated funding and allow them to bid for other transport funding. The core partnerships would comprise members and staff of the National Park Authorities and relevant Transport Authorities, and work in liaison with a wider group of relevant bodies such as those representing the tourism industry, community sector and landscape protection.

Is this all pie in the sky?

Three years ago, suggestions to restrict car access or focus attention on reducing carbon emissions of approach travel to national parks would have sounded somewhat left-field. However: (i) lockdown has meant that people’s experiences of travel and being visitors has changed, and many national parks have tried – and generally succeeded – at implementing far more radical visitor access management than previously; (ii) COP26 has shone a bright light on the imperative of reducing carbon emissions; (iii) the Glover review has set out clearly and impartially the problems and needs for different approaches to how access and transport is governed in national parks and (iv) the Bus Back Better (2021) strategy and associated Bus Service Improvement Plan mechanism provides a new funding structure that lends itself to the coherent units of national parks.

These four areas try to cut through the detail and set out the headline needs, opportunities and ways forward. It is to help national park authorities and their transport authorities to consider constructively how to finally unlock the potential for national park access and transport, and come together to articulate clearly a new case to DEFRA and DfT to make systems for how people travel to and around national parks fit for the 21st century.

Share This