The Field of Transport Policy: An Initial Approach

By Schwedes, Oliver | German Policy Studies, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

The Field of Transport Policy: An Initial Approach


Schwedes, Oliver, German Policy Studies


1 Introduction

The field of transport policy can be characterized by a strange peculiarity. On the one hand, the Ministry of Transport holds the biggest budget for investment therefore it seems to be one of the most important policy fields. This fact is reflected by the people who mainly not just judge transport policy as an important topic but are convinced to be - again compared to other policy fields - particularly familiar with it. On the other hand, in the field of transport policy we are confronted with a deep gap between programmatic goals and real transport development, which does not fit to the image of an economically potent and politically powerful ministry.

To put it clearly, it is not just a compromise like in other policy fields. Furthermore since decades the transport development, compared to the heavy demands formulated by politicians to themselves, goes in the opposite direction. This fact again is reflected by the position of the minister of transport, which is considered a less-distinguished office.

While the discipline of Political Science could well deal with the topic, transport policy has not yet been recognized as a separate policy field (Sager/Kaufmann 2002; Beyme 2007: 125). Transport policy is the domain of economists and most of what we know about the transport sector is seen from an economic perspective. Therefore, we know little about the actors in the field of transport policy and their particular interests nor how they would act in certain circumstances to push their interests. In other words the field of transport policy is very nebulous.

In this situation it is barely possible to establish collective binding decisions for transport policy. Political decisions in the field of transport policy are dominated by particular interests of more or less powerful actors.

Though transparency is a precondition of democracy, and it is the purpose of political science to support democratic conditions, the first task must be to bring to light what has previously happened clandestinely. The result might be that transport policy will become not merely an important but also a powerful policy field.

2 On methods

Proceeding from the well-documented phenomenon of an unusually deep gap between a widely accepted programmatic goal of transport policy reflected in the central idea of an integrated transport policy on the one hand, and real transport development on the other (Scholler-Schwedes 2010), we are faced with two levels of analysis. The first is a level of discourse, where people struggle for power of definition. The second is a level of action where people struggle for competence to act. Therefore, it seems to make sense in analyzing the field of transport policy to combine two different methods: the discourse analysis and an actor-centered policy approach.

In contrasting the process of agenda setting on the level of discourse with a description of the topography of actors, it hopefully will give some hints to explain the contradiction between the convictions and actions in the field of transport policy. (2)

3 The discourse on an integrated transport Policy

In Germany the central idea of an integrated transport policy was first developed in the 1970s. (3) In 1973, the social-liberal coalition government initiated a change of paradigm with its Kursbuch fur Verkehrspolitik (Instructions for a Transport Policy). It questioned the simplistic application of the principles of market economy for all sectors of transport. Instead, it saw the necessity "to solve the growing conflict between fulfilling social needs on the one hand and satisfying private interests on the other" (BMV 1973: 11). As the profits in private economy can be accompanied by losses in the national economy, it was necessary to take stock of the national economy with respect to transport.

With the publishing of the report by the expert committee for problems of the environment, Auto und Umwelt, (the Car and the Environment), the Kursbuch obtained scientific support (Nebelung/Meyer 1974). …

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