Mega-disruptions and policy change: Lessons from the mobility sector in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK



Marsden G & Docherty I (2021) Mega-disruptions and policy change: Lessons from the mobility sector in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. Transport Policy, 110, pp. 86-97.

There has been widespread interest in the potential for the significant behavioural and policy adaptations rendered necessary by Coronavirus to act as a catalyst for radical longer term policy change in transport. However, this body of work to date has been limited in its consideration of how such policy change might be brought about. Translating the lessons from the Coronavirus response to other ongoing strategic challenges such as decarbonisation requires analysis of what the pandemic has revealed about processes of policy formulation and how institutions responsible for policy implementation actually work. This paper explores the extent to which rapid policy change has actually been possible in the transport sector in England and Scotland during the pandemic, and key examples of how such change has been both achieved and blocked. Two rounds of interviews with senior stakeholders from across the transport sector were undertaken in June and November 2020 to inform the analysis. We find that the pandemic has accelerated some policy commitments that were already planned, but at a time of huge stress on the whole of government and its partner delivery organisations, the potential to deliver radical policy adaptation was limited. However, Coronavirus is recognised as being a potentially path-changing disruption to existing trajectories in terms of the adaptations to business practices, industry structures, ways of working and the public finances. Paradoxically, whilst recognising these uncertainties, decision-makers are yet to deviate from pre-pandemic planning assumptions and policy plans and this risks missing the opportunities to steer how those changes unfold.

Pandemic; Covid-19; Coronavirus; disruption; governance; transport policy; path dependence; policy windows

Transport Policy: Volume 110

FundersESRC Economic and Social Research Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Publication date30/09/2021
Publication date online01/06/2021
Date accepted by journal09/05/2021

People (1)


Professor Iain Docherty

Professor Iain Docherty

Dean of Institute for Advanced Studies

Projects (1)

Productivity Insights Network