Long exposure shot of a motorway showing long blurs of car lights

First things first – what is a TRO?

TRO stands for Traffic Regulation Order. TROs are the legal mechanism by which local authorities can make changes to the way traffic behaves in a given area – such as speed limits, parking charges, one-way systems, adding/removing yellow lines, and so on.

As you can imagine, there are rather a lot of them.

That in itself isn’t the problem; there are plenty of statutory standards to which local authorities have to adhere. The issue lies in how they’re implemented: the actual legislation for TROs is a relic from the mid-century and hasn’t been updated since. While this may have been appropriate in the 1970s when there were about half the amount of roads in the UK (and councils were responsible for far fewer services), today the painful process of making changes to streets is lengthy, needlessly bureaucratic, and costs UK local authorities tens of millions of wasted pounds per year.

Why is the process so bad?

Getting a TRO approved and implemented takes an age, due to the fact that TROs must be advertised in ‘the London Gazette or equivalent’ (yes, for real), as well as on notices in the affected streets (think the classic laminated piece of paper on a lamppost). Residents are then given a 21-day window to object. If any objections are made councillors need to formally consider them and make any necessary changes. If changes are made the TRO has to be advertised again and the 21-day objection window reopens.

All of this newspaper advertising is hugely expensive, especially when it goes back and forth a few times due to public objection. Local press adverts for TROs cost councils in the UK approximately £50 MILLION per year. [1]

Once the TRO is ready to be implemented, a Notice of Making is published in the good old ‘London Gazette or equivalent’, informing residents that the Order is being put into place. But actually it’s not informing residents, is it, because hardly anybody reads print newspapers any more. Just 7% of road users find out about TROs in local papers, and only 25% feel like they’re informed about plans for road changes. [2]

Two young girls on bikes, seen from behind, waiting for traffic at an intersection in a busy city

What’s more, in many instances responses/objections can only be accepted by written letter or by email.

The sheer cost of implementing changes to roads means that councils often aren’t able to make as many changes as are needed. This leads to high levels of frustration among road users, who feel like they’re being neither informed about what’s actually happening nor listened to when asking for changes to be implemented.

It’s also worth mentioning that each individual electric vehicle (EV) charging point requires an approved TRO before it can be installed. For all the talk about electrifying the UK road network, it’s going to take decades to get charging infrastructure implemented if councils have to work within the current legislation.

Essentially TROs are stubborn, document-heavy thorns in the side of progress. They’re extremely undemocratic, are an example of everything wrong with wasteful council processes, and they stand in the way of local authorities getting up to speed with the digital age.

What can we do about it?

Well, the legislation of TROs is a big barrier to change. But the process can certainly be easier. Using digital methods to consult on and advertise TROs would increase the number of residents who see and respond.

Plus, it creates a digital repository of past and present changes, so residents can see and respond to what’s happening without having to go and hunt for a piece of paper stuck to a lamppost, copy down an email address, memorise what changes are being suggested and then write an objection about them.

Currently, many TROs are published in multi-page, text-only documents which are densely worded and full of ‘legalese’. This format is time-consuming to read and extremely difficult to visualise and understand. Using interactive mapping instead of text documents aids comprehension of what’s actually happening and creates a far easier user experience when it comes to registering comments or objections.

Until legislation is amended, there are limits as to what we can do – but the more we can incorporate digital tech and incorporate principles of openness and transparency into this process the better.

Interested in streamlining your TRO process? Check out Citizen Space Geospatial. If you want to learn more, book a demo and we’ll walk you through it.