The field of transport policy: an initial approach.

Author:Schwedes, Oliver
 
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1 Introduction

The field of transport policy can be characterized by a strange peculiarity. On the one hand, the Ministry of Transport holds the biggest budget for investment therefore it seems to be one of the most important policy fields. This fact is reflected by the people who mainly not just judge transport policy as an important topic but are convinced to be - again compared to other policy fields - particularly familiar with it. On the other hand, in the field of transport policy we are confronted with a deep gap between programmatic goals and real transport development, which does not fit to the image of an economically potent and politically powerful ministry.

To put it clearly, it is not just a compromise like in other policy fields. Furthermore since decades the transport development, compared to the heavy demands formulated by politicians to themselves, goes in the opposite direction. This fact again is reflected by the position of the minister of transport, which is considered a less-distinguished office.

While the discipline of Political Science could well deal with the topic, transport policy has not yet been recognized as a separate policy field (Sager/Kaufmann 2002; Beyme 2007: 125). Transport policy is the domain of economists and most of what we know about the transport sector is seen from an economic perspective. Therefore, we know little about the actors in the field of transport policy and their particular interests nor how they would act in certain circumstances to push their interests. In other words the field of transport policy is very nebulous.

In this situation it is barely possible to establish collective binding decisions for transport policy. Political decisions in the field of transport policy are dominated by particular interests of more or less powerful actors.

Though transparency is a precondition of democracy, and it is the purpose of political science to support democratic conditions, the first task must be to bring to light what has previously happened clandestinely. The result might be that transport policy will become not merely an important but also a powerful policy field.

2 On methods

Proceeding from the well-documented phenomenon of an unusually deep gap between a widely accepted programmatic goal of transport policy reflected in the central idea of an integrated transport policy on the one hand, and real transport development on the other (Scholler-Schwedes 2010), we are faced with two levels of analysis. The first is a level of discourse, where people struggle for power of definition. The second is a level of action where people struggle for competence to act. Therefore, it seems to make sense in analyzing the field of transport policy to combine two different methods: the discourse analysis and an actor-centered policy approach.

In contrasting the process of agenda setting on the level of discourse with a description of the topography of actors, it hopefully will give some hints to explain the contradiction between the convictions and actions in the field of transport policy. (2)

3 The discourse on an integrated transport Policy

In Germany the central idea of an integrated transport policy was first developed in the 1970s. (3) In 1973, the social-liberal coalition government initiated a change of paradigm with its Kursbuch fur Verkehrspolitik (Instructions for a Transport Policy). It questioned the simplistic application of the principles of market economy for all sectors of transport. Instead, it saw the necessity "to solve the growing conflict between fulfilling social needs on the one hand and satisfying private interests on the other" (BMV 1973: 11). As the profits in private economy can be accompanied by losses in the national economy, it was necessary to take stock of the national economy with respect to transport.

With the publishing of the report by the expert committee for problems of the environment, Auto und Umwelt, (the Car and the Environment), the Kursbuch obtained scientific support (Nebelung/Meyer 1974). In both studies, profound analyses of the problems of transport were presented, and transport policy was understood as a central part of social politics. According to the scientists, the development of transport cannot be observed without considering how various parts of society were influenced by it and vice versa. "The committee has to analyse all interactions of the individual motor vehicle and the areas of life. It has to take implications of legislation and social politics into account that are reflected in the campaigns put out by the car industry and by its economic interconnections" (ibid. 57). Consequently, the expert committee also saw the solution of the transport problems in "the integrated planning of transport" (ibid. 58). It did not one-sidedly oppose individual mass motorization, but rather stressed the invaluable contribution of the car to a higher quality of life by creating more possibilities for experience and social contact. Nevertheless, the committee voted for a more balanced development of public and private transport, to be guaranteed by planning strategies that integrated the various political departments and the protagonists of traffic and transport. In the context of an integrated transport policy, the expert committee particularly favored political and social integration, while the Federal Government also supported concepts for the technical integration of public and private transport. In order to enhance the attractiveness of public transport, new modes of transport were to adapt it to individual preferences and to collectivize individual transport at the same time (Schmucki 1997).

In the 1970s, the objectives of the "Verband Offentlicher Verkehrsbetriebe", VOV (Association of Public Transport Companies) demonstrated how widely accepted the central idea of an integrated transport strategy had become (Walter 1995). The association developed a publicity campaign which explicitly pointed out how ideally public and individual transport can complement each another. In those days, the VOV still advocated a spirit of partnership, free of discriminatory comments about individual transport, quite unlike the often aggressive anti-carcampaigns that were to follow.

In the early 1970s, the persuasiveness of the central idea found its institutional expression in science and politics. Science reacted by establishing new subjects in universities, such as the subject area "integrated transport planning" at the Technical University in Berlin. Politics, on the other hand, decided in favor of a fundamental reform of the Federal Ministry of Transport (Dienel 2007). Until then, the Ministry had been divided into four sections, each representing an individual sector of transport: railways, roads, shipping and air transport. This organizational structure resulted in competition within the Ministry of Transport, but was presented to the outside world as a supposedly unified policy by the Minister. As the fragmented structure caused by the organizational structure was incompatible with the philosophy of integration now aspired to, it was to be abolished in order to make it possible to put the idea of an integrated transport policy into practice.

For this purpose, a division for basic transport policy was founded, whose task consisted in joining the individual sections in a unified concept that comprised all traffic sectors. But although by the end of the 1970s the department on basic transport policy had become the largest section, it did not succeed in over-coming the conflicting interests and pushing through a comprehensive strategy for all sectors of transport. (4)

Against the background of the energy crises in the early 1970s, the debates about transport policy reforms were followed with great interest. But a few years after the crises had been overcome, there was a dramatic swing in public opinion. From that time onwards, the worldwide recession dominated strategic considerations, also in the field of transport politics. When faced with a crisis, local governments remembered the economic significance of the car industry and adapted their politics accordingly. Not even the smallest steps of the extensive plans for an integrated transport policy were put into action. "This shows us two facts: first, attempts for structural reform are quickly discarded when, due to drastic economic changes and crises in the production of consumer goods, the only way for politics to safeguard jobs is to unrestrainedly boost new private investment. Second, we clearly see the high costs of such politics of adaptation. Against better knowledge such short-term measures in politics have to be bought dearly, problems in society and the environment, and the needs of society as a whole, take second place to the compulsions of business economy" (Linder/Maurer/Resch 1975: 65).

At that time, due to the report for the Club of Rome 'Constraints of Growth' (Meadows/Meadows 1972) a controversial dispute in the field of transport policy was initiated. In pointing out the contradiction between economic growth and the limited natural resources the close link between economic und transport growth and the consequences on the natural resources was also brought up as a central theme. By asking how to close the gap between economic and transport growth on the one side, and the protection of nature on the other side, a fundamental societal issue was affected.

3.1 Sustainable development by sustainable growth

In the 1980s, the focus of the discourse on sustainability shifted. The so-called Brundtland Report 'Our Common Future' no longer recognized natural resources as absolute growth constraints on the capitalist society (WCED 1987). With a fundamental change in perspective it rather interpreted growth constraints as blockades of modernization in human development. From now on not absolute constraints, dependent on natural resources were discussed but relative...

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