It is widely acknowledged that we have less than a decade to fundamentally transform society to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate change impacts. In response to the commitments made to the COP21 Paris Agreement, governments have set out bold and necessary decarbonisation targets. In the face of a global economic recession we can build back stronger – and in doing so embed sustainable practices to contribute to decarbonisation. As the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, how can the transport sector play its part in decarbonisation, while embedding inclusive access to mobility?
When we choose to travel
It should not have required a pandemic to force a greater take-up of remote working and video conferencing, but as an intervention it has certainly been effective in illustrating the viability of reducing business travel, while increasing opportunities for connection. Continuing such practices could reduce the aggregate need for travel. We may also see a temporal shift in mobility patterns due to the greater adoption of flexible and remote working, which could remove or reduce the ‘rush hour’ – positively impacting both climate change and local air quality through a reduction in congestion.
Flexible and remote working has been proven to contribute to equality, diversity and inclusion. At the same time, improved use of technology is are enhancing inclusivity by removing barriers to participation – for example, Arup’s Virtual Engage tool has removed the need for stakeholders to travel to consultation events, while maintaining the traditional ‘community hall’ concept and feel. There are myriad ways in which technological solutions can be adopted to promote connection and engagement, which can be a great ‘leveller’, with greater flexibility for those with caring responsibilities, or those less able to travel for any reason.
How we choose to travel
We are seeing the emergence of new perspectives on likely modal shift and behavioural changes in how we chose to travel as a result of the pandemic. Accelerating the shift towards active travel and public transport, rather than private passenger vehicles is at the top of the decarbonisation agenda, as laid out in the Department for Transport’s Decarbonising Transport document. Whether we can adopt the scale of reduction in car travel observed in lock-down is questionable, but not an excuse for inaction.
Policy makers have an opportunity to nudge behaviour towards active travel through interventions such as safer cycling and walking infrastructure. This can capitalise on the momentum created by behavioural change observed during lockdown. The Greener Grangetown project in Cardiff, has re-designed the streetscape around green infrastructure and reduced traffic. Integral to the project are rain gardens, street trees, seating, cycle parking and bike hire docks, creating an interesting and engaging place to walk, cycle and spend time. Residents and community groups have been encouraged to get involved with planting flowerbeds, embankments and rain gardens and help to care for the areas, enhancing the sense of community. Increased community pride and social interaction has been shown to help reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. The scheme exemplifies the interconnectedness between active travel, and the wider community. We can take inspiration from this and further projects where this is evidenced.
Public transport providers face significant challenges emerging from the Covid-19 crisis. In a decarbonised society, public transport must, alongside active travel, be the primary means of travel. This will in turn contribute to tackling inequality, by providing enhanced services for those with the greatest need.
There is the potential, post-Covid-19, to see the rise of demand-responsive models (which could also be designed around social distancing). Arup’s guidance report You’ve declared a climate emergency… Next steps: Transport includes a case study on Bwcabus – a demand-responsive bus service developed in partnership between public sector and transport service providers in Carmarthensire and Ceredigion. Passengers book journeys in advance over the phone and are collected from their nearest bus stop or their home if they have a disability. 51% of users stated they now use public transport more frequently and 81% of car owners stated they used their car less since the introduction of Bwcabus. This type of initiative, alongside digital initiatives (such as public transport apps), alongside further integration of different modes of travel and payment platforms, offer opportunities to improve the user experience and nudge behaviour towards public transport, at the same time as enhancing accessibility.
Decarbonising road travel
Private vehicle transport, where it remains, will be characterised by a shift towards electrification. Public investment in charging infrastructure is essential and has started happening at pace to keep up with projected demand and to inspire consumer confidence to make the switch.
Understanding the type of charging required, and where it needs to be, is linked to demographics and inclusivity. Electric vehicle users can charge at home, on the street, at destination, or en route – with each type of location likely to offer different charging speeds. Early adopters of electric vehicles have been stereotyped as those who can afford a Tesla – typically white, middle-aged and male. To represent the need for future charging infrastructure in this way as electric vehicles start to permeate into the mass market would be a misjudgement. As 30% of UK housing stock does not have off-street parking, many people will need on-street charging facilities to charge near their homes. In other circumstances, access to parent and child or mobility parking spaces might be needed alongside charging, and it should be recognised that the needs of users are not mutually exclusive. The London Electric Vehicle Taskforce is keen to highlight in its delivery plan that to increase consumer confidence, access to public charge points must include priority groups that need extra support. It is too early to judge the successful adoption of this approach, but it is intended that forthcoming Welsh Government Electric Vehicle Charging Strategy, supported by Arup, will consider these priorities when investing in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Now is the time to grasp the opportunity to build back better mobility solutions, that are sustainable, inclusive, and that make a real contribution to our decarbonised future.
This article has been written by Helen Westhead from ARUP as part of our weekly Cynnal Coffee Club conversations, to share learning and explore positive actions we can take forward to ensure a more resilient and sustainable future.
Helen leads the Environment team at Arup in Cardiff, delivering projects, policy and strategy to drive decarbonisation in response to the climate emergency. She works across discipline boundaries, to align low carbon mobility with energy, and is currently supporting Welsh Government and Transport for Wales to deliver electric vehicle charging.
Arup is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, architects, consultants and technical specialists, working across every aspect of today’s built environment. Together we help our clients solve their most complex challenges – turning exciting ideas into tangible reality as we strive to find a better way and shape a better world.