Transport, travel and logistics
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Smoothing the journey for road users with agile policy development
In England, the legal process for getting permission to close a road or to implement new traffic restrictions – known as a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) – has barely changed in four decades. Working with the Department for Transport (DfT), we adopted a completely new agile approach to policy design to modernise TROs. The new proposed legislative process will, if taken forward by the Government, speed up decision-making, open key data sets and create more connected and seamless journeys for drivers. We achieved 90 per cent backing for legislative changes, increasing alignment among stakeholders for the proposed new process.
created better, bolder solutions using an agile, collaborative and highly visual approach to designing a new TRO legislative process
increased engagement of stakeholders, winning support for proposed solutions from 90 per cent of TRO users
identified proposals that could save TRO applicants over £35 million per annum in fees
UK drivers travel more than 300 billion vehicle miles on the UK’s road network every year, up 50 per cent since the 1980s. Meanwhile, a data revolution has transformed these journeys. For example, live road closure information delivered through navigational devices or apps now guide drivers to the least congested routes and agencies managing the roads use data from the network to optimise traffic flow.
Despite these changes, the process for getting permission to close a road, change its design or use or implement restrictions has barely changed in four decades. Still largely a paper-based process, it’s slow for highways authorities to manage. It’s also expensive – it’s estimated to cost TRO applicants over £125 million per year.
And because the current process is not digital in most areas, data on Traffic Regulation Orders cannot be shared effectively with third-party data aggregators or navigation system providers. The knock-on impact is lost benefits for users such as better routing decisions, fewer traffic disruptions, less congestion and more reliable journeys.
The DfT wanted to consider updates to TRO legislation to support digital TROs from initial application through to making orders and publication. The big challenge was to make sure that any proposals worked for a wide range of stakeholders and users and would successfully address concerns prior to a formal DfT public consultation. Our diverse team provided expertise in agile policy development, digital service design, open data and future mobility to help DfT realise their goals for this project.
To understand different user pain points and needs, we launched a primary research phase. We used our innovative ‘service design canvas’ to map current user journeys through the TRO process and pinpoint inefficiencies to be removed. We carried out contextual and ethnographic research with key stakeholder groups to make sure the proposals we developed were grounded in their reality.
Using the research findings, we developed an end-to-end design for a new TRO legislative process. Initially, we conceived a basic legislative prototype (or a minimum viable product). We then ran prototype testing workshops, engaging 80 people from 35 different organisations, to validate our riskiest assumptions and refine the service design. Over the course of this process, we increased user satisfaction with the proposals by 30 per cent.
Finally, we measured the costs and benefits of the different policy interventions we proposed. This spanned the impact of reducing the requirement for TROs to be advertised in local papers to calculating the efficiency from more effective access to open TRO data. This work provided an important evidence-base for decisions on the best way forward.
Our agile policy design approach developed solutions from the users’ point of view. It paints pictures of better experiences by using highly visual assets to test proposals with stakeholders. Effective stakeholder engagement meant that, by the end of this phase, 90 per cent of stakeholders backed proposals. As a result, the DfT now have clear and more widely supported proposals for a new TRO legislative process, future-proofed for the fast-evolving future of transport, that they can now include in a formal consultation. This could deliver a better, smoother and more connected future journey for everyone using the UK’s road network.
Find out more about the DfT's research and analysis in their recently published report, Traffic Regulation Orders: identifying improvements to the legislative process in England.