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People make transport: communities enabling greener travel


4 min read Partner content

With COP26 dominating the headlines, Sustainable Transport Alliance hosted a panel event sponsored by the Go-Ahead Group and Transport Scotland to discuss why communities must be at the heart of green transport.

CEO of Sustrans and event chair, Xavier Brice, framed the discussion by asking how can we move towards ‘greener and equitable transport’ that went further, and decarbonised quicker, than the mass electrification of vehicles.

Chief Executive of CoMo UK, Richard Dilks was next to offer his insight into a green future for transport by focusing on shared travel solutions, by highlighting the 86% disparity in emissions between a rail journey and private car journey over a 30-mile distance. He went on to call for a tightening of targets in disincentivising private car use to reverse the twelve-fold increase in motor vehicle traffic since 1949.

Patrick Harvie, Scottish Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights reiterated the social nature of transport and contrasted the increasing cost of public transport in contrast to the stagnant expense of running a private vehicle. Calling for more active travel, the Green MSP also targeted an overall reduction in car usage, saying “electric or otherwise, we need to see fewer car trips if we’re going to meet our climate targets”.

Offering the UK government’s perspective, the Department for Transport’s Permanent Secretary Bernadette Kelly reiterated their commitment to active travel referencing the UK’s £710 million Active Travel Strategy. Deviating from previous speakers, she acknowledged the desire for some people to travel alone and advocated making cleaner individual forms of transport more attractive.

As the session moved to the panel discussion, the conversation around the urgency of changes to our transport system became the order of the day. Professor of Transport Governance at the University of Leeds Greg Marsden noted that the transport sector had failed to record a decline in emissions since 1990, despite technological innovation.

He pointed out that hitting the target of reducing emissions by two-thirds by 2032 would require a much more radical approach that would include travelling less overall; “I haven’t seen a credible analysis that doesn’t at least have a 20% reduction in kilometres travelled”. Greg Marsden warned that the electrification of cars – which currently have lower running costs – would increase the number of car journeys, undermining prospects for less car-centric communities.

This was echoed by Glasgow City councillor Anna Richardson who urged environmentalists to have the courage to put equality and fairness at the heart of policy-making, noting that car users have been over-catered for in terms of space and infrastructure in urban settings and other cleaner forms of transport should now benefit.

This belief was shared unanimously across the panel with Jools Townsend, Chief Executive of Community Rail Network offering a local-led approach as a solution to decarbonising the transport industry. She called for transformative change that could be driven by the underestimated power of communities.

Go-Ahead’s Managing Director for Business Development Martin Dean also spoke of the value of community-led responses to greening transport. He highlighted that, where local public transport decision-making was devolved, communities could better shape services and increase uptake. He said technological innovation had to be accompanied by behavioural change and demand management approaches.

Greg Marsden countered that demand management had to include increasing the costs of motoring and being honest with the public on this. Dean said that moving one in 25 car journeys to bus would have a huge effect.  He offered specific solutions for rural areas like mobility hubs or where redundant rail buildings could be turned in to bike hubs to encourage cycling as a form of commuter travel.

Martin Dean explained that public transport complemented active travel, as people walk or cycle to their bus stop or train station. He pointed out that by actively championing active travel, we can improve health outcomes and tackle climate change.

 Watch the video of the full event below:


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