BLOG: We must seize opportunity to bake in new travel behaviours

July 6th 2020

The COVID19 pandemic has demonstrated our ability, as a nation, to achieve fundamental shifts in travel behaviour at scale and at pace. If the necessity and will is there, then change applied consistently at scale is not only possible but deliverable.

During this time, the impact on emissions has been significant. UK carbon emissions were down 31% in April when the most stringent of lockdown restrictions were in place.  That's now dropped to 23% below average and as lockdown eases further, emissions will continue to "normalise", demonstrating the close link that transport and particularly our road network has on the environment.

At the same time, year-on-year global temperatures continue to rise. The UK has just had the warmest and driest May on record. To meet the UK's carbon targets and avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must act now. It will be challenging to balance the need for decarbonisation alongside our economic recovery plans – but it can be done.

In the short term we see:

  • A system wide reduction in trips but, some localised increases in congestion
  • More homeworking (roughly 45% of the total working age population in the UK can work from home) and a reduction in the rush hour peak
  • Cycling rates tripling since the end of March – local authorities are moving quickly to deploy new cycling infrastructure
  • Online shopping growing, generating more home deliveries
  • An increase in leisure mileage over the summer months as social distancing restrictions ease, but overseas holidays remain difficult

Whilst stimulus packages, scientific advice and attitude to risk and economic hardship will all have an impact on behaviour, overall these trends should result in a reduction in road vehicle carbon emissions.

The medium to long term though is more difficult to predict.  Much depends on global economic forces beyond the control of the UK government.

Emissions from transport are higher and growing faster in the Heartland than the national average. Our Pathways to Decarbonisation report, developed with the NISMOD/Dafni research cluster, sets out the ways the region can reach net zero by 2050.

It looks at the impacts of digital connectivity, reduced demand and the requirements of the vehicles that will be in operation across the Heartland. This work supports the development of the EEH Transport Strategy, published on the 14th of July for consultation, which in turn sets out the region's approach to working with public, private and academic partners to deliver a transport ecosystem that will enable the recovery and be fit of our low carbon future. 

We're at a unique juncture. As a society we must seize the opportunity to 'bake in' new behaviours around home working and cycling, where they are feasible, while allowing transport providers to focus on enabling those who can't work remotely to still be able to access opportunities and services safely and affordably. We must continue our focus on low carbon technology and future transport solutions and alongside that we must ensure that public transport services are able to resume at full capacity as soon as safely possible.