The potential of other accessibility solutions is underexploited
Non-infrastructural solutions for improving accessibility, such as working from home or spreading traffic throughout the day, have long been part of accessibility policy. But these are often temporary programmes and pilot projects. Some non-infrastructural solutions are not even considered because they are so politically or socially sensitive. As a result, the focus of government policy is still too often on the construction of new infrastructure or the expansion of existing infrastructure. The Rli argues that all policy alternatives should be considered as full equivalents when policy choices are being made.
This applies, for example, to promoting digital accessibility as an alternative to physical travel. As a result of the measures to combat coronavirus, online home working and video conferencing are rapidly becoming commonplace along with live-streaming concerts or performances, for example. There are lessons to be learned from these experiences, both positive and negative, which, according to the Rli, should quickly be given a place in accessibility policy in the forthcoming parliamentary session.
Broad welfare as a benchmark for assessing accessibility policy
The Rli also advocates including other challenges more explicitly in accessibility policy. Challenges relating to climate, the environment, urbanisation, safety and social issues have an impact on accessibility policy and vice versa. According to the Council, increasing our welfare in the broadest sense of the word should be the benchmark for making the right decisions throughout the policy cycle, from strategy development to implementation. Social cost-benefit analyses should be used much earlier and more consistently in decision-making processes. The analysis of the long-term capacity requirements of roads, waterways, railways and public transport to be published in the middle of this year must take account of all aspects relevant to broad welfare. It is also important to prevent this analysis from becoming merely a list of priorities for infrastructural solutions, as has been the case in the past.
Key role for the House of Representatives
The House of Representatives has an important role to play in ensuring that all policy alternatives are fully considered in accessibility policy. In the House of Representatives, however, the emphasis in the debate and decision-making is still often on individual projects. As the government's scrutiny body, the House of Representatives should ensure that the assessment frameworks and decision-making instruments used are sufficiently geared towards making comprehensive assessments. And the House should assess government policy more explicitly with regard to links with other relevant policies (urbanisation, digitalisation) and with regard to cooperation between ministries and tiers of government.
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About the Rli
The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) is an independent advisory board for the Dutch government and parliament. It provides solicited and unsolicited advice on overall policy pertaining to the sustainable development of the human environment and the physical infrastructure. In particular, the Council addresses strategic public issues relating to spatial planning and the economy, housing, the environment, food and raw materials, nature, agriculture, mobility and safety. Chairman is Jan Jaap de Graeff. www.rli.nl