Opening your eyes to other ways to travel
Carla Stockton-Jones, UK Managing Director of Stagecoach – co-founders of the Urban Mobility Partnership – discusses the challenge of enticing motorists out of their cars, and why the solution lies in partnership and a multi-modal approach
When Stagecoach and Enterprise co-founded the Urban Mobility Partnership back in 2019, it was with a shared ambition to deliver more sustainable mobility in towns and cities across the UK.
It may have seemed strange to some that a public transport operator and a car hire and car share business would be working together, but the rationale has always been very clear. The old and inefficient transport model of car ownership and the damage congestion does to our economy, air quality in our communities, and our global environment, is not sustainable.
We both understood that delivering a step-change in the shift from owned cars to sustainable mobility needed partnership, and no one mode offered a complete solution.
The Urban Mobility Partnership now has members representing a range of other modes too, from cycling to micro mobility, as well as experts in the transport value chain, such as e-ticketing and the planning system where decisions directly influence transport choices by consumers.
Much of the conversation around green mobility, including at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, has been around new technology. Stagecoach, for its part, is targeting a zero emission UK bus fleet by 2035.
In 2023, we are planning to increase our electric bus fleet by over 85 per cent as we continue our journey towards being a net zero business. We already operate one of Europe’s biggest e-bus fleets in Manchester, and in the year ahead, we will be increasing our electric bus fleet from 184 buses to 343. Stagecoach will also be launching the first all-electric city bus networks in the UK in Inverness and Perth in the first quarter of 2023.
But as the UK Committee on Climate Change has made clear, technology is only part of the solution to transport’s big carbon footprint, the majority of which comes from petrol and diesel cars. A significant proportion of the emissions reduction needed to deliver the country’s net zero ambitions will have to come from real and lasting behaviour change.
We need to change how we travel, moving people away from cars to walking, cycling and wheeling, and public transport, as well as accessing more efficient car share and car hire where necessary.
Since the turn of the year, the UK Government has launched a £2 single fares scheme on buses across England, which runs until the end of March. This is a great opportunity to convince people of the benefits of getting out of their cars and onto the bus, the most used form of public transport with the biggest reach in local communities.
But the lure of cheap fares is only one part of a tailored and partnership approach that is needed to get people to consider another way to travel and address the road congestion that is on the rise once again.
Britons are undoubtedly wedded to their cars – whether commuting for work, taking children to school, shopping for groceries or seeing friends, cars are the way people make most of the journeys in their lives. This is because it seems like the most cost effective and practical option for the journeys we are making. It is arguably embedded in our behaviour.
Yet despite this, consumer research carried out by Stagecoach shows that most people are open to using their car less. Already some people have responded to rising fuel prices by using their car less and taking journeys by other means.
While we are Britain’s biggest bus and coach operator, we are unashamedly in favour of people having the widest choice possible when it comes to how they make journeys. We recognise that cars will still be essential for some journeys, but for other journeys, there may be some alternatives such as bus, rail, or active travel.
We carried out consumer research with over 4,000 people across the country to understand more about how best to deliver modal shift. Our report – Every journey makes a difference: how we can support people switch how they travel – sets out the financial, environmental and community benefits of reduced car use and calls for co-ordinated action from government, councils and transport operators.
It found that the majority of motorists are open to using their car less. Motorists are most open to reducing car usage for the school run (+34 per cent net openness rating) or personal leisure activity (+22 per cent net openness rating) like going to the gym. Some types of motorists were also more open to making the switch. They tend to be younger (+36 per cent score), live in urban areas (+28 per cent) or make shorter journeys (+21 per cent).
But people need to be incentivised to make the change and our research shows the important role local and central government policy can play in driving a big shift in how people make journeys.
Some 51 per cent of the people we interviewed want councils to take action to encourage people to move away from using their cars and instead use other modes of transport. There’s a definite payback in terms of tackling congestion, air quality and climate change. Even more powerful is the finding, against the backdrop of the current cost-of-living crisis, that by replacing some journeys by public transport or active travel, motorists could save up to £6,000 a year.
Councils can deliver the greatest change by adopting blended policies, maximising consumer savings and benefits to the environment and communities. Introducing policies that dissuade car usage and fund making public transport more affordable, accessible and convenient are more effective and secure greater local support.
For example, introducing a Clean Air Zone and lower bus fares leads to over half of motorists saying they would drive much less often for work (52 per cent) and social (53 per cent) or leisure activities (52 per cent).
Working in partnership
Our research has clear lessons both for all key stakeholders in the system: central and local authority policy makers; businesses, who have a major role to play in encouraging and supporting their employees to use more sustainable travel options; and mobility providers who provide the transport networks consumers can access.
The real key to this is working in partnership. It’s not about simply penalising car users or just discouraging car use – in fact no single mode has the complete solution. We don’t need everyone to change how they make every journey, but each journey that people do switch would have a tangible difference.
It’s about coming up with an integrated multi-modal plan across private and public sector that encourages and incentivises people to use the right mode of transport for the right journey. And the potential prize is huge: over 1 billion miles of car journeys and nearly 400,000 tonnes of CO2 could be removed from Britain’s roads each week. Let’s make 2023 a year of action to make it happen.