Houses of Parliament street view with buses

22 April 2021

A new coalition is needed to achieve climate targets

The UK Government has announced new tougher targets on greenhouse gas emissions, cutting carbon dioxide by 78% by 2035.

To do so the Government will advocate more electric cars, low-carbon heating, renewable electricity and in particular will encourage people to drive less, walk or cycle more and use public transport. 

Dr Susan Kenyon is a Principal Lecturer in Transport, Politics and Society at Canterbury Christ Church University, specialising in travel behavioural science. She is urging the Government to bring together a new coalition of experts and voices to offer new insights into changing people’s travel behaviour and ensure that changes happen.

Dr Kenyon said: “It’s fantastic that the government is committed to sustainable travel, and their recent announcement on investing more money in public transport, a key recommendation of the EFRA Air Quality report, is welcomed. However, we must remember that, however good a bus service is, we are unlikely to see the increase in passenger numbers that we need without positive steps to encourage behaviour change. 

“Statistics show us that during the pandemic car use has increased substantially and bus use only recovered between the lockdowns to around 50% of use before lockdown. There are some things that are different as we come out of lockdown two: many people have been vaccinated and lockdown bus use has been higher in the second lockdown than in the first. Despite this, I am convinced that bus use won’t recover naturally. Without targeted interventions, based on travel behaviour science and an understanding of use needs, the Government cannot be successful in its aim to increase bus use and decrease air pollution.”

Research provided by Dr Susan Kenyon to The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Parliamentary Committee last December was used in their recent report, Air Quality and coronavirus: a glimpse of a different future or business as usual. Three of her recommendations were adopted by the report, one of which being that the Government must launch a campaign to encourage people to use public transport.

Dr Kenyon explained: “As I stated in my evidence to the Parliamentary Committee, Government policies must be based on an understanding of travel behaviour science and user needs, to be effective. A good first step would be a marketing campaign to undo the damage caused by lockdown, targeted at former users. We can then target new users. If they are to work, these campaigns must be based upon an understanding of why people don’t travel as we want them to and why they travel as they do. 

“Traditionally, travel policy has been born largely out of economic needs and infrastructure provision. However, to truly change our behaviour we must understand it. Now is the time to bring together a new coalition of professionals, including experts in the social science of travel behaviour, to understand the challenges that we face and ensure we seize this opportunity to make sustainable differences. You can’t just hope behaviour changes will happen and leave society to choose the right path to sustainability, the Government has to take a positive and proactive action to ensure these changes happen.”

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Last edited: 15/01/2020 11:19:00