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A highway interchange at night with cars travelling  along the roads

Can a better understanding of supply and demand dynamics help reduce transport emissions?

Paul Hammond - global practice leader for economics, integrated transport executive

Transport is the largest source of air pollution in the UK, with surface transport responsible for a quarter of the country’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Across Europe, motor vehicles are by far the most polluting form of transport, with cars responsible for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, and trucks accountable for 34%.

The UK has a set a target of near net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and as such a polluting sector, transport can expect some dramatic changes to policy and technological advances in the coming years. But upgrading vehicles and infrastructure to reduce carbon levels is only part of the solution. Understanding why and how people travel, researching behaviours and patterns, is essential in order to enact real change in transport industries. Digital techniques have the potential to change how we gather, access and process the vital data behind supply and demand in the sector.

“Behaviour change relates to factors that reduce the need to travel,” explains Mott MacDonald integrated transport executive and global practise leader for economics Paul Hammond. “The big premise that we’re trying to put forward in terms of Mott MacDonald’s view of future mobility is ‘why do people travel in the first place?’

“They travel to access work, to access opportunity, to access social interaction, to access leisure, to access their residential space… Transport is a derived demand. Our view is that, of course, we will still need transport to deliver this access, and physical relocation is at the heart of that, but we see a ‘triple access system’ as fundamental in achieving this.”

The three prongs of the triple access system are physical mobility (transport systems), spatial proximity (land use systems), and digital connectivity (telecommunications systems). How these three prongs interact with each other has an impact on both accessibility to the services Hammond mentions, but also on carbon emissions.

The relationship between digital connectivity and physical mobility certainly has the potential to upset the status quo. Take remote working as an example; if fewer people are using cars and planes as a result of telecommunications technologies such as video conferencing software which allows workers to more freely engage with business partners remotely rather than face-to-face, then there will be a reduction in demand for road and air transport, and thus fewer carbon-producing cars and planes in use at any given time.

The same can be said of spatial proximity. A well-designed land use system can reduce the requirement for carbon-intensive transport infrastructure. Better town planning can decrease the need for swathes of the public to use cars for travel through better access to public services, a focus on cycling and other green mobility initiatives, or more ready availability and access to public transport.

Advanced transport planning models to better understand how and why people travel are already in use, but they tend to rely on historic data to forecast travel patterns in cities and across regions. One challenge to be overcome is how to generate and access that data. Whether its utilising urban traffic management centres or accessing GPS data, there are a number of potential digital solutions that could revolutionise how supply and demand dynamics are tracked and utilised in the transport sector. Better understanding of this data will be key in reducing reliance on carbon-intensive transport infrastructure.

Mott MacDonald Digital Ventures is sponsoring the Accelerator at NCE TechFest. We have set digital innovators five key infrastructure challenges to explore where their skills and expertise can bring benefits to our industry. If you think your digital tools, services or expertise can help, apply for the Accelerator now.

Paul Hammond

Global Practice Leader for Economics

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