Skip to content
Site search
Row of cars along the road
Natural Environment

Changing how we travel – part 3: Mode shift

Policymakers across the world are looking at means of pandemic-proofing large urban centres in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. One oft-cited solution could be a reallocation of funds earmarked for mass transit systems into active travel infrastructure.

London Cycling Campaign
9 June 2020

The climate emergency demands radical change in how both people and goods move about. At the national level, our transport priorities continue to promote and favour private transport, from fuel duty freezes to huge expenditure on road-building programmes designed to maximise motor traffic flow. This impacts transport in London in terms of funding and support for walking, cycling, public transport and shared mobility services. It has the further knock-on effect of exacerbating the challenge of transition between the national road network and the city’s street network. It also influences public perceptions as to how best to deal with transport problems.

The enduring issue for London’s streets is that private motor transport is an unacceptably inefficient use of scarce and valuable space. The inefficiency of cars as people movers is highlighted by the fact that around 60% of car trips made by Londoners are single occupancy: just the driver, with no passengers[1].

But this isn’t just about moving traffic, it’s also about parked vehicles. In the UK, the average car is in use for only around 4% of the time[2], and it has been estimated that parking occupies 8,000 hectares of land in Central London - equivalent to 57 Hyde Parks[3].

Shifting journeys out of private cars and into more sustainable modes of transport would free up space currently used by parked cars for cycling and walking infrastructure, shared mobility options and public space improvements. With this in mind, the European Academies Science Advisory Council report Decarbonisation of Transport: Options and challenges includes mode shift as one of its core ‘Avoid’ recommendations.

The enduring issue for London’s streets is that private motor transport is an unacceptably inefficient use of scarce and valuable space. Around 60% of car trips made by Londoners are single occupancy. Parking space occupies 8,000 hectares of land in Central London – equivalent to 57 Hyde Parks.

The advisory council understands the importance of avoiding car use. Accordingly, it urges “cities, local authorities and business to promote walking, cycling, car sharing, working from home, teleconferencing, etc. to discourage use of passenger cars in urban areas”. Under the ‘Shift’ heading, the advisory council’s key recommendations are to “raise the occupancy levels of existing public transport, and use mobility-as-a-service business models; to improve real time passenger information; to invest in more bus lanes; to increase the frequency of services; and to improve interchange.”[4]

In keeping with these priorities, our challenge to the Mayor of London focuses on what has the chance to make the greatest positive difference, fastest: enabling and incentivising people to travel less in cars and more by foot, on bikes, and on public transport.

This will mean:

  • Making it more attractive for more people to cycle more.
  • Enabling people to use zero-carbon shared private transport (scooters, cycles, cars and vans), thereby reducing car ownership.
  • Implementing a smart, equitable and London-wide system of road user charging, building on and integrating the existing Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) systems.
  • Making it safer and more convenient for people to walk short journeys and enabling them to access public transport and shared mobility services.
  • Improving the quality, reliability, speed, accessibility and capacity of bus travel, as well as reducing its cost.
  • Reducing the emissions from freight operations in the capital, covering not just cleaner vans and lorries but also mode shift to e-cargo-cycles for ‘last mile’ deliveries.

Whilst all of this is reasonable, and even achievable in broad terms, it is the speed with which London must decarbonise that is the central, sobering challenge. Incremental reductions in car use won’t be enough. It is necessary to make a mass mode shift away from private car use over the space of ten years. This will necessitate a new surface transport paradigm for the capital. Thus, perhaps the single most important thing the Mayor of London can do is to make private motor car ownership unnecessary for the vast majority of Londoners by 2030.

It is necessary to make a mass mode shift away from private car use over the space of ten years. This will necessitate a new surface transport paradigm for the capital.

We don’t underestimate how tough this will be or how politically scary it might look. But it can be done. The good news is that truly Climate Safe streets will bring with them a host of other benefits.

Download the full report: Climate Safe Streets: Delivering zero carbon roads in London by 2030

 

References