Management by good intentions and best wishes: on sustainability, tourism and transport investment planning in Sweden

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The Swedish government, despite a possible value conflict with the ambitious Swedish climate mitigation objectives, has stated that tourism development is an important basis for economic growth, not least in rural areas. This paper explores how the Swedish policy making system, and ambitious environmental and traffic safety objectives, influence transport investment planning at the regional level. Our point of reference for evaluating the system is the work with good regulatory policy advocated by the OECD and used by the EU. The main finding is that the Swedish government and parliament lack a strategic “whole-of-government approach” to sustainable transport development. There are many principles and objectives with good intentions established at the national level that are incompatible in practice. The conflicts that follow are handed down to lower government levels to solve with best wishes. The problem with this type of management is the “tragedy of the commons.” Without clear guidance, individuals (and administrations) acting independently and rationally based on self-interests are likely to behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group (society).

Making choices based on a more holistic assessment of impacts and benefits and costs could help to prevent this kind of outcome. However, from the data collected it appears that many investments are undertaken without being assessed due to the lack of government instructions on regulatory impact assessment. Other investments are undertaken despite having a negative net benefit. One reason for this is specific instructions given by the government that points to certain investments. Another reason seems to be the Vision Zero policy established by the parliament. In recent years this policy has been a strong driver of improvements of the road system. Seen from an environmental perspective, the unwanted consequence of the priorities made is that state roads become faster and safer and thereby a more attractive alternative to other travel modes. Seen from a regional development and tourism perspective, this may have diverted resources away from investments that would have yielded a greater benefit to the tourism industry in “rural” areas.

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