The stark facts of climate change mean that a more sustainable future will have to involve more intelligent car use.
While there is no silver bullet policy for tackling climate change, decisive action on a national and local level as well as from the market is required. As the contributor of almost a quarter of the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions, the transport sector has a key role to play. Transport derived carbon emissions impose a cost to society equivalent to £4 billion per annum and so carbon reduction has a good business case to make too.
The stark facts of climate change mean that a more sustainable future will have to involve more intelligent car use. Passenger cars are the largest contributor to CO2 emissions from transport, producing 61% of our surface transport emissions compared to 5% from buses. Shifting more people from cars on to less carbon intense modes such as bus, coach, walking and cycling could vitally assist the government in meeting its target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% below base year levels by 2050.
We estimate that switching from car to bus or coach for just one journey a month could save two million tonnes of CO2 and would mean one billion fewer car journeys on our roads. Facilitating this modal switch could be done almost immediately and at low cost too - a crucial consideration in this tough economic climate.
Carbon emissions per passenger kilometre are on average lower from bus travel than from car travel. CO2 savings can be boosted by the congestion reduction benefits of switching from car to bus, since congestion dramatically increases emissions from road vehicles. Under heavily congested conditions tail pipe emissions can be increased by as much as 3 or 4 times. Attracting a car driver from a congested road on to buses that are running anyhow could not only eliminate the emissions of the car trips that is no longer made, but will also reduce congestion by allowing traffic to flow more freely, thus reducing emissions from the remaining car trips and from goods vehicles.
Congestion is also a massive drain on our economy with costs estimated at £11bn annually. And with congestion levels predicted to rise by 30% by 2025 (mainly in urban areas) the costs will only increase further still. Government analysis indicates that a substantial proportion of drivers would be willing to drive less, particularly for shorter trips, if practical alternatives were available. Around 40% of all transport carbon emissions are from short car trips under 10 miles. Making it easier for people to make sustainable transport choices is the key and this requires a wide range of interventions and a package of measures.
Techniques to influence people's travel behaviour towards more sustainable options ('Smarter Choices') such as personalised travel planning, individualised marketing and sustainable travel campaigns have been shown to be effective. Government pilots across three areas saw a reduction of 7-9% in the number of car trips, an increase of 10-22% of bus trips per person, an increase of 26-30% in cycle trips per person and a 10-13% increase in walking trips per person.
But the right product must be there if people are to switch. Priority measures for buses and coaches to run on enables a speedy, reliable and punctual service which research shows to be very important for consumers considering whether to convert a car journey to one by bus. The same has been shown for smartcards and other ticketing solutions, high quality vehicles and customer service and information provision. Fiscal incentives to level the playing field of pro-car measures such as free parking, with pro-bus measures such as tax incentives/salary sacrifice schemes for bus season tickets would also send positive signals on modal choice and encourage mode shift.
Integrating transport with land-use policy must underpin all of these elements so that that planning decisions fully reflect the implications for transport emissions. The presumption of the planning system must be in favour of locating development around existing public transport hubs and corridors. Experience has already shown us that land-use development policies that do not consider transport impacts simply lead to car-based developments, with resulting congestion and access difficulties. Both access and infrastructure is almost impossible to deliver retrospectively.
The bus industry, assisted by the government's Green Bus Fund, is investing in cleaner vehicles which over the last six years has had a real impact on lowering local emissions. Low carbon buses use a third less fuel and emit 30% less CO2 emissions than diesel equivalents. Buses powered by household rubbish and animal waste are running on some routes which expect to deliver at least a 40% carbon saving. Bio-buses operating on 100% bio-fuel made from used cooking oil and other food industry bi-products have reduced CO2 emissions by 80%. Driver training using on-bus technology (such as LED displays on the dashboard) provides drivers with real-time feedback on their driving performance, helping them drive more fuel-efficiently. 12% fuel savings have been achieved, equivalent to saving more than 1,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Engine idle shut-down systems to cut fuel wastage and minimise emissions have also been introduced.
Technology undoubtedly has a key role to play in combating transport carbon emissions with the widespread adoption of electric cars being a critical factor. But this cannot be achieved quickly. In the immediate term there is the opportunity to deliver significant carbon reductions by encouraging people to switch some of their car journeys to bus, coach, walking or cycling.
Unfortunately, this opportunity is being jeopardised. The House of Commons Select Committee last year found that the bus sector is now facing the greatest financial challenge for over a generation from the combination of the reduction in local authorities' revenue expenditure; a cut to public expenditure on concessionary fares and the 20% reduction in Bus Service Operators Grant for 2012-13. Failing to act now to support the bus sector will mean missing the most immediate and low cost opportunity at our disposal not just for reducing carbon emissions, but also for boosting economic growth, and tackling congestion and transport social exclusion.