Design is essential for transport innovations

The one thing that unites the main candidates to be London mayor is the need to improve transport in the capital. Londoners only have to make up their minds about which of the surprisingly similar statements appearing in the various manifestos on this aspect of mayoral policy when they go to the polls on 4 May.

Given this consensus across all parties, it is surprising that Tony Blair’s Government hasn’t already addressed the issue with more energy, other than see through the extension of London Underground’s Jubilee Line, conceived in a previous administration.

Transport is, after all, a national issue as the effects of nationalisation of public transport take hold in urban and rural areas and the use of the car continues to increase. Systems introduced in the capital can provide useful models for elsewhere.

Design has a key role to play in transport innovations, particularly in the public sector. It’s not just a case of providing efficient buses and trains and environmentally good stops and stations. There are the signing, branding and security programmes as well, as the work by Wolff Olins, Glazer and others has shown on the Heathrow Express fast rail system from London’s Paddington station to Heathrow airport. This is one area where design can play a strategic role in a project rather than just “pretty up” and “sell” an engineering concept.

Britain boasts considerable expertise in the field of transport – a fact that has been recognised elsewhere in Europe. Architect Foster and Partners was responsible for Bilbao’s metro system in the 1990s, for example, and product and furniture designer Jasper Morrison worked on Hanover’s trams.

Jane Priestman, former design head at both airport operator BAA and British Rail, has worked as a consultant on transport projects across the world, along with the likes of branding specialist Lloyd Northover Citigate. Meanwhile, product design groups such as Leicester-based Jones Garrard – author of the Eurostar train, among other transport innovations – the award-winning specialist Design Triangle and Seymour Powell have notched up experience with various transport types.

Given this tremendous body of expertise, it would be good to see the successful mayoral candidate – or, indeed, central Government – setting up a high profile advisory panel to steer their transport policies that includes practising designers among its members.

What better way to improve London’s transport system, while reinforcing the candidates’ collective belief in the potency of good design?

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