How does transport recover from Covid-19?

In this lockdown era some things have got closer, and some further away. The rise in walking and cycling and the fall in overall travel demand have been huge positives for our quality of air, place, sound – and for the activity levels of those able to take some daily exercise. The uptick in appetite for sustainable transport on the ground and in policy-maker circles is palpable.

Yet we have also seen stern advice, now modified, to avoid public transport, and there remains a risk of increased rates of private motoring.

Coming together to decarbonise transport

As we move into future phases of dealing with Covid-19 and the momentous but resolvable challenge of decarbonising transport in the UK, a group of sustainable transport organisations have come together. Our remits deliberately cut across modes and straddle shared transport such as bike share and car clubs; public transport; walking and cycling. We are my organisation (Collaborative Mobility UK); Sustrans; Living Streets; Greener Journeys; the Campaign for Better Transport; the Community Rail Network; Bus Users UK; and the Community Transport Association.

We contend that the time has come for action across these modal divides to meet our net zero greenhouse gas emissions target and help people travel more sustainably and inclusively.

How can we do this?

Public transport is vital to this, yet not sufficient. We also have to walk and cycle much more. And we must be able to use shared transport options such as accessing a bike without having to own and store one. Using fewer cars that are lower in emissions and more intensively used for necessary journeys where a car is the only viable option should also be a focus.

We need lots more people to be using whatever combinations of these sustainable modes work for their needs as an alternative to the private car, particularly the lightly occupied private car. We can’t keep on carting 36 million empty seats around in cars on the morning commute, or having 62% of car trips being with a lone driver. We need to design in how we are going to get our weekly minimum of 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week.

Hitting targets

If we are to hit our legally binding decarbonisation targets, then transport planning, policy making and delivery need to undergo a sustained, measured revolution in the UK:

  • Transport appraisal systems need to be recalibrated
  • The transport taxation system pivoted
  • Silo-based approaches and structures will have to be banished for good
  • The planning system changed to design-in sustainable development via measures such as mobility hubs (where shared, active and public transport come together) and design-out unsustainable movement patterns
  • Cities and regions need appropriate powers to shape transport systems in their area.

What will decarbonisation bring?

The world as seen through the lenses of decarbonisation and socio-economic inclusion, rather than just economic needs, looks rather different. Happily, this will bake in those gains we have seen in our air and place quality and it may well save people considerable amounts of money. This will help take away the passport requirement of owning your means of transport before you can access job, social and leisure opportunities.

As organisations we will be looking for opportunities to share our goals and messages, to be together on platforms virtual and face to face, to support one another. The world does not neatly divide into cyclists or drivers or public transport users. Nor should our way of prioritising and incentivising sustainable transport.

We all need to stand together to get to net zero by 2050 or earlier, otherwise divided we will surely fall.

About the author:

Richard Dilks is Chief Executive of Collaborative Mobility UK, a charity working to maximise the public benefits of shared transport, including shared cars, bikes and e-scooters. Richard has also served as a board member of London Travel Watch and transport lead for the business group London First.

Find out more about this year’s Transport Planning Day Campaign, which focuses on the role of transport planners in tackling climate change and creating a sustainable, healthy future.



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