Transport is one of the sectors that produces the majority of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Encouragingly, there are many actions councils can take in order to reduce emissions within the transport sector.
The difficulty with compiling a list of actions that councils can take to reduce transport emissions was that there are a lot of possible actions – from clean air zones to council staff travel plans. It is also the area where the co-benefits of actions are clearly understood. In fact, reducing emissions is often a co-benefit of the intended action. For example, introducing a segregated bike lane may be done to protect those who want to cycle, with the co-benefit being that more cyclists leads to less emissions.
Why were these questions chosen?
We have 13 questions in transport, so this blog covers the interesting questions rather than discussing all of them. The topics cover the council fleets, to area wide actions such as school streets, shared transport, clean air zones, workplace parking levies, speed limits, public EV charging network and action to support more buses and active travel.
Shared transport initiatives (for example car/bike hire) are key to creating a world where travelling by any mode, at any time, is easy. We are grateful that CoMo UK details shared transport initiatives across the UK so we are using their data as well as checking council websites for any smaller schemes, such as the hiring of council vehicles. One of the difficulties with assessing shared transport initiatives is coverage, we can’t know exactly what area is covered by each scheme. Doing this would require us mapping the council area and the coverage of the scheme, and then deciding if it was accessible for enough residents. We are not able to do this, so this question is focused only on if the council provides or supports any initiatives.
We have included a question on speed limits because by making people feel safer as they walk and cycle you are incentivising active travel and reducing emissions. Speed limits are also one of the aforementioned actions where reducing emissions is a co-benefit. Research has consistently shown that fear of traffic is the number 1 reason why people choose not to cycle or walk. By implementing 20mph as the default speed, as Wales has done, you are reducing that fear, as well as the number of crashes and fatalities involving cyclists and pedestrians. You can read additional benefits, as well as which local authorities have set 20mph as the default for residential roads on 20’s Plenty For Us – who we are thankful for allowing us to use their publicly available data for this question.
We have included some questions related to councils powers over parking as a climate initiative. Offering free parking is a major subsidy to drivers, which incentivises short trips by car. It does not have to be only for areas where parking is in demand but should be looked at as a power to discourage short trips by car. This is the reason why we have included a question on controlled parking zones in a council area, and about whether a council charges private vehicles within its clean air or low emission zone. In addition, the money raised by charging for parking could also be used to improve active travel or bus infrastructure, creating a virtuous circle.
What didn’t we include?
The biggest questions first – we have not included any questions on trains in our Scorecards methodology because the power of local authorities to influence the train network seems to amount to lobbying. Without national funding and government agencies/train operators agreeing to improve services or extend a new line there seems to be little that councils can influence here. While this is important we did not think it was one of the key actions a local authority could take. Plus every local authority has buses, whereas the coverage of the train network varies greatly between local authorities.
As with all sections we have limited the number of questions that cover a council’s own operations because our Scorecards focus on what area wide climate action councils can influence. Because of this, we have not included a question on council staff travel plans and a specific question on councils waste management fleet (bin lorries).
From a data perspective, we explored the possibility of mapping bike and bus infrastructure and comparing it to the length of the road network, which would produce an average metric we could use to compare between local authorities. We also looked into mapping the coverage of low-traffic neighbourhoods. But the difficulties in defining what good bike and bus infrastructure looks like and the limitations of this, with no data on bus infrastructure within local authorities led us to use a proxy – bus ridership data. If bus ridership is high then it follows that the local authority would have likely instituted a strong bus network to achieve this. We are still working on a dataset, or a proxy, on a council’s support of active travel.
Another question we decided not to include is on taxi licensing – as we believed there were more effective actions to ask and we needed to limit the total number of questions. Licensing authorities (most UK transport authorities) have the power to add a requirement that only low-emission or fully electric vehicles can be licensed. For more information, the Energy Savings Trust has a great guide on what powers licensing authorities have and which councils have taken action.
We also didn’t include questions on rapid chargers for Electric Vehicles (EVs). This is because they are much harder and costlier to install and we believe our question on the public EV charging network is good enough as it includes rapid chargers within the total number of charging points. On parking, we looked at whether to include a question on emissions-based levies as Lewisham has done, but thought it was more impactful to ask the question on parking permits, which discourage short trips by car. Finally, on bicycle parking, we looked at including a question on whether the council requires new development to install bike parking but decided against it because of its limited impact compared to other questions.
Freedom Of Information (FOI) Requests
You can see from the trial FOI requests that we are asking one FOI question in the transport section. This deals with the fact that councils are still approving projects, such as new roads and expansion of airports, that will increase emissions, harm local air quality and negatively impact biodiversity. We have defined a high carbon transport project as a road or airport, rather than any other form of transportation due to their clear impact on increasing emissions, both embodied from building the road, and in their use increasing road traffic or flights.
We believe it is important to hold councils to account on these negative actions, as well as celebrate the positive ones they have taken to reduce emissions from transport.
As mentioned we are using national data as a strong indicator for how supportive a local authority is on buses, EVs and active travel.
We are still working on the data for active travel and will update this when our criteria is clear. However, for EV’s we have a clear measurement – the number of EV chargers, per capita which has been broken down by local authority by Zapmap. We have selected two levels criteria for councils to score points here. The higher level of 434 chargers per 100,000 residents is based on how to achieve the UK Government’s 2030 target for 300,000 public EV chargers.
To work this out we divided the Uk Governments’ target of 300,000 EV chargers across the UK by the Office for National Statistics 2030 projected population of 69.2 million. We then multiplied this figure by 100,000. Rounding to the nearest whole number gave us 434 chargers per 100,000 residents.
Bus ridership has been majorly affected by Covid-19. The Department for Transport (DFT) releases yearly data on the per capita (per person) bus ridership for each English transport authority. As bus ridership is yet to bounce back we are awaiting the latest data before setting a level which we believe demonstrates that the local authority is supportive of buses across their area. The latest DFT data for 2022 will now be released in January 2023.
As with all of our sections, we have tried to keep the questions focussed on the most impactful and measurable actions of councils for transport. A special thank you to those we consulted with as part of this section. We hope this blog has been helpful for campaigners and councils alike to better understand why we chose the questions we did in this section. We’re looking forward to marking councils on this section to find out in full detail what councils are doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport in their area.