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The art of persuasion

Reducing carbon emissions from the transport sector will be as much about changing behaviour as changing technology, says Damian Price.

Transportation is responsible for about 23% of energy-related CO2 emissions. Electric batteries, hydrogen-fuel cells and alternative fuels will only take us so far on the journey to net-zero. At times, we will also need to travel less, at different times, by alternative means or via another route.

This point was made by the Committee on Climate Change, the independent body advising the UK government. Its sixth carbon budget report published in December 2020 concluded that reducing UK surface transport emissions from 113MtCO2e in 2019 to 32MtCO2e by 2035 as part of a ‘balanced net-zero pathway’ would require low-carbon technologies and fuels, improvements in petrol and diesel vehicle efficiency, and behaviour change to reduce travel demand and shift journeys onto lower-carbon modes of transport.

Pre-COVID-19, most of the world was on the move. Globally, there were 1.4bn cars on the roads in 2018, up from 1bn in 2009, while international air travel soared to 4.7bn passengers before the pandemic, having been less than 2bn in 2004. Post pandemic, our roads and sky will fill with ever more vehicles and aircraft unless we better manage travel demand and make more efficient use of existing assets.

That’s about encouraging travellers to ask themselves four key questions before setting out: Is my journey necessary? Can I travel outside of peak times? Is there another, cleaner way to get from A to B? What if I travelled by a less busy route?

Reduce, retime, remode, reroute

Reduce, retime, remode, reroute

Travel demand management (TDM) balances a transport network’s supply or capacity with demand from users at any given time, so our platforms and trains are less packed, our cycle lanes are busy but free flowing and our roads less congested.

To manage demand, governments, transport authorities and operators need travellers to change their behaviour, and consider introducing one of the four ‘Rs’:

  • Reduce – work from home, don’t travel
  • Retime – travel outside of the known busy peaks
  • Remode – move from one mode to another that is more beneficial for the transport network
  • Reroute – use parts of the network that are less busy

Change must be easy and attractive. The entire process needs to be systematic and joined up and must motivate people to travel in the way the network and the environment needs them to. TDM ensures that travellers are informed and can make informed decisions with access to the right information, through the right channel, at the right time.

Communication about travelling at another time, by another route or mode needs to also be timely, so travellers can make informed decisions and opt for a solution that does not disrupt their plans, but still supports the needs of the network.

Developing TDM programmes to support congested cities that are hosting major events demonstrate that significant travel behaviour change is possible. Our TDM work for the London 2012 Olympics – and subsequently for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2018 Gold Coast Games in Queensland – achieved notable successes in changing everyday travel habits in and around the host cities and getting the best out of the available transport capacity.

London Bridge is one of London’s busiest rail terminals, and a major commuter gateway to the city. At peak commuting times during London 2012, passengers could have experienced delays of more than 30 minutes in the morning and evening rush hours. Adding another hour to their working day would not have gone down well with many daily commuters into central London.

To minimise disruption, TDM was deployed as an early engagement strategy with businesses and local communities, ongoing communication campaigns and direct messaging, including timely prompts, and access to real-time travel information as well as incentives and rewards to change. Championing the benefits of alternative travel options like walking and cycling, such as health, carbon, time or cost can help generate buy-in.

Moving forward

Moving forward

COVID-19 has already altered travel behaviour, most notably to reduce trips being made on the network as some people worked, shopped, exercised and socialised at or nearer to their home.

Daily public transport passenger numbers remain significantly below pre-pandemic levels in many major cities. In June 2021, 15 months into the pandemic, TfL reported that passenger numbers on the London Underground were at around 40% of their pre-COVID levels, and, even on the best-case scenario, would reach only around 90% by March 2022. New York City subway ridership has similarly fallen. Over the working week beginning 19 July 2021, ridership was consistently less than half pre-pandemic levels on each day, according to MTA data.

When passengers return in greater numbers to trains, metros and buses – at least for some days each week – transport operators will need to manage demand to ease the strain on their networks during peak times.

When faced with the issue of getting all pupils back into education in September of 2020, the UK government commissioned us to produce a TDM toolkit for the Department for Transport to help local transport authorities in England manage the effects of COVID-19 on their transport systems as well as to manage a range of other scenarios where there are increased pressures on the transport network or a mismatch between supply and demand.

TDM and changing travel behaviour have a role in the future sustainable transport system. They will help improve mobility and quality of life in a rapidly urbanising world by spreading demand and making efficient use of existing transport assets – reducing the need to build new infrastructure in already congested environments. Cities and communities will benefit from reduced congestion and traffic accidents, improved air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions. People who walk, run or cycle more will enjoy better health.

      Damian Price is global sector leader for transport planning at Mott MacDonald

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