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Why we must listen to the next generation in Cambridge on transport

Opinion | By Chris Rand, Smarter Cambridge Transport

Chris Rand, of Smarter Cambridge Transport. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chris Rand, of Smarter Cambridge Transport. Picture: Keith Heppell

Another exam results season is over, and thousands of students will have received the rewards from their hard work.

While miserable commenters online (who are old enough to know better) gripe about how education was more challenging in their day, the volunteers at Smarter Cambridge Transport have been seeing just how wrong that view is.

There's no question in my mind that today's young people realise that they have to shape their own future, urgently, as older generations seem to be thinking increasingly short-term. This requires coming up with solutions, not just objecting to the existing situation. We’re seeing how they're using the opportunities given to them at school, college and university to research and propose fixes to the problems around us.

Several students have contacted us for help in undergraduate and sixth form projects on the subject of transport. We've been delighted to share our ideas with them, as well as point them towards relevant research.

In every case, the young seem to understand – perhaps better than the transport and planning authorities – the need for proactive policies. The projects have included examining the potential impact of self-driving road vehicles under centralised control, and how we should plan for this likely step change in mobility. They've concluded that we need to prepare ourselves for this now, and they’re creating some compelling ideas that the authorities would do well to examine. You won't be surprised to learn, for example, that building more dual carriageways will be looked back on as a dying gasp of an old order. Instead, we need to create flexible infrastructure which can be adapted to whatever future innovations throw at us.

Cambridge's transport problems are acute – to the extent that they're now included in one Geography A-level textbook. (Smarter Cambridge Transport's transport plan is also featured there for students to examine). We'll solve our problems a lot more effectively as we start to listen to people whose thinking begins with the future, in place of politicians and transport planners who seem stuck in the 1980s.

Read Smarter Cambridge Transport's column in the Cambridge Independent every week.

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