New report identifies ‘gap’ in Britain’s transport decarbonisation journey

© Courtesy of Stantec

A Lancaster University academic has contributed to a new report suggesting there needs to be a systemic shift in the way we travel if the UK is to achieve its net zero mobility targets.

Professor Monika Büscher was part of a study team which suggests radical changes to the planning and design of places are needed to meet mobility carbon targets.

Researchers worked with Stantec, a global leader in sustainable design and engineering services, and research network DecarboN8 to deliver the ‘Bridging the Gap’ project.

Professor Büscher and her team led a ‘Societal Readiness Assessment’ (SoRA), an interactive framework for developers and stakeholders to improve the positive fit between any ‘solutions’, social practices and social impacts of low carbon transport projects.

She also developed a SoRA Dashboard for self-assessment with a questionnaire, providing a ‘Societal Readiness Level’ result with Dr Lara Salinas at the University of Arts London and other colleagues.

The SoRADASH project was funded by the Department for Transport and Connected Places Catapult Transport Research and Innovation Grant.

Other contributors included Transport for the North (TfN), Transport for Greater Manchester, and Bury Council, as well as Leeds, Newcastle, and Lancaster universities.

The extensive report outlines a carbon ‘gap’ between what can be achieved by following current government transport decarbonisation policy and the meeting of these targets in a local planning context.

It concludes that relying on a switch to electric vehicles alone will not be enough to meet transport decarbonisation targets and that people and place need to play a much bigger role.

Bridging the Gap suggests that car use in the UK needs to be reduced by at least 20 percent by 2030. There also needs to be more emphasis on creating places in which active travel, public transport or shared mobility systems are more attractive than cars, particularly for journeys between 5 and 30 kilometers.

The report demonstrates that moves towards net zero mobility will require a move away from investing in ever greater capacity for car use.

Instead, says the report, there needs to be a focus on creating more attractive places to live, work, and play, where there is less need to travel, with convenient alternatives made available.

It adds that not only will this support the changes in travel behaviour needed to meet net zero mobility targets but it will also create healthier places to live.

The study develops alternative, hypothetical ‘futures’ as a basis for the research based on TfN’s Future Travel Scenarios.

The study concludes that higher density mixed use development, focused on improved public transport and active travel-friendly environments provides the most likely pathway to net zero transport outcomes.

A technology-led and mobility services-led future also has potential but would require even more ambitious reductions in car use.

Radical change and innovation would be needed to deliver either of these futures, adds the report.

It is often assumed that society is not ready for such change, or that the need to change is not understood by communities. Using SoRA, the Bridging the Gap project takes an alternative view that it is often the change itself that is not ready for society.

The report piloted Societal Readiness Assessment as a new approach to preparing the ground for the transition by examining how solutions and might need to adapt to align with societal needs.

The project was co-funded by Stantec, the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and the University of Leeds.

Monika Büscher, a Professor of Sociology and a Director of the Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University, said: “It has been an inspiration to be part of this project.

“Our team has pioneered a powerful vision-led planning approach and developed powerful tools for systemic analysis.

“We’ve embraced societal readiness assessment, which has enabled us to develop place-based, multi-dimensional analysis with stakeholders in a way that invites dissent and leverages it constructively.

“Ultimately, we need to bring the public with us on this journey to net-zero mobility.”

You can download the Bridging The Gap report here.