Creating the Transport Decarbonisation Plan – Are you in?

by Greg Marsden

Thursday marked the long awaited launch of the first stage of the Department for Transport’s Decarbonisation Plan. It is perhaps not the most eye-catching news item in what is a pretty traumatic period for the UK but it does deserve the attention of everyone in the sector and, as events allow, the UK population.

The title, “Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge”, is deliberate. This is not the plan, but an invitation to shape the plan over the next 6 months. The document provides a very transparent view of the nature of the challenge; as shown in the size of the gap between the trajectory implied in the 2017 Green Growth Strategy (not as ambitious as it needed to be) and the current committed policies (of which there is an impressive list).

DfT's latest domestic GHG emissions based on current policies, compared to Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) targets and CCC Net Zero 'Further Ambition' and 'Speculative' scenarios

The science has a significant influence on the framing including:

“This is not optional; There is no plausible path to net zero without major transport emissions reductions; reductions that need to start being delivered soon.” (p58)

There is an acknowledgment that there will need to be a strategy which covers all technologies and all modes and, critically, which involves significant and early action – given the time it takes for technologies to penetrate the fleet. Some of these technologies do not even exist yet and form part of the call to arms for science and innovation.

From the perspective of the DecarboN8 Network, we are delighted to see an emphasis on ‘Place-Based’ decarbonisation, which forms one of the six strategic priorities set out in the document. The plan highlights variations in commute mode shares and levels of on-street parking (and therefore charge point access) in different communities. As the plan develops, it should also address the huge variations in carbon emissions between local authorities, their very different options for decarbonisation, and, their different pathways to zero carbon which will need to be worked out.

As a line in the sand on what we know about transport and carbon and what the existing policy commitments will and will not achieve, this document will stand the test of time. The big question, however, is what happens next? What does an ambitious pathway look like? What is the mix of measures that take us there?

The number of stakeholders is huge, the range of uncertainties significant and the policy choices difficult. Now is the time to make the case for a progressive, effective and ambitious trajectory that maps to the UK’s carbon budget as implied by the Paris Agreement (if events allow).

Some of the issues which stand out in the document for me include:

  • The language of providing easier choices to travel by walking, cycling and public transport. The same applies to better information on CO2 to inform travellers. We’ve been here before. The context of choice matters. The document talks about what we will improve, but not what will be restricted. If issues like pricing of public transport are left out, then the price signals do the choosing more clearly than any carbon calculator ever could. There is not a word on restricting car use.

  • There remains a chronic imbalance in spending on making things better for car drivers versus those travelling by lower or zero emission modes. £532m for three years of extension to the Plug-In Car Grant versus £350m for cycle infrastructure funds for example. I am not arguing to cut the Plug-In Car Grant – but rather that we need to be more ambitious than just increasing cycling from 1% to 2% of distance travelled, and we must fund that commitment properly. The £27bn spend on major roads schemes announced around the budget was not mentioned. For this decarbonisation plan to work it must be at the heart of all decisions in Whitehall – it must move from being a stand-alone statement to one which matters everywhere.

  • There are some parts of the transport system which are going to decarbonise very slowly. With all current commitments on LGVs, emissions may only be 17% lower by 2050. Maritime also has real challenges, as does aviation. If we cannot cut these emissions quickly enough then it will fall to the rest of the sector to compensate. Given the already colossal challenge of decarbonisation of car technology, what this really means is yet more emphasis on demand reduction. Demand reduction is not specifically addressed within the document, at least not the reductions of 20% and upwards which will require major national and local intervention and a plan to grow the economy differently – reductions which cannot be achieved by nudge. One thing we might salvage from the current Covid-19 crisis may just be the opportunity to change this debate and decide to rebuild differently.

  • Finally, I was disappointed to see that the carbon impacts of infrastructure were left to other sectors to consider, as they don’t neatly fit within the carbon accounting protocols for transport. Whilst EVs are lower carbon than petrol cars they are not zero emission and the materials and recycling processes they require are significant. Emissions in construction also matter. The DecarboN8 Network will be working with stakeholders across the North to show just how important it is to take integrated rather than siloed decisions about the total carbon impacts of transport.

I am sure there are many more issues to be debated. I will be doing my best to play a part in those discussions and working hard with our DecarboN8 partners to fill some of the research and implementation gaps. If you like what the DfT have put out, then please take this opportunity to say so – it has been a long road to get here. If you want to see more ambition or a different emphasis then jump up and down and get involved in the discussion. We will see you there!

Fuel Duty Freezes and Hard Working Families

DecarboN8 Director, Professor Greg Marsden, explains why the fuel duty freeze is counterproductive for both people and planet

Last week’s budget heralded a “record tenth year in a row” of a fuel duty freeze, which the Budget document suggests is part of “cutting the cost of living” and “helping hard-working people keep more of what they earn”. Tax doesn’t go up, people are better off, what’s your problem with that? Move on right?

As with any announcement, you need to peel back the spin to really think about who this is a benefit for and under what terms it might be heralded a benefit. There are five issues which sit underneath this which need unpicking if the debate on how we pay for travel is ever going to be socially progressive and contribute positively to climate change. These are:

  • It is a tax break which benefits those who drive the most and, therefore, the wealthiest in our society (who also pollute the most)
  • It widens the affordability gap between public transport and private car use at a time where we need more people to switch away from the car
  • It pushes more people into car ownership who, despite the fuel subsidy, cannot really afford to own a car (bear with me on this!)
  • It generates extra car traffic – taking us away from a discussion we absolutely have to have about how we pay for transport use in the future
  • It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you work hard

I take each of these in turn.

It benefits the well off the most

The chart below shows the average number of miles driven by car by each of the five income quintile groups in the UK (data from the 2018 National Travel Survey). It doesn’t require a degree in maths to spot the inequality here. The wealthiest income group drives just over three times as far as the least well-off group, meaning this tax break will benefit the wealthiest the most. The Treasury estimates the “average motorist” has saved £1200 cumulatively as a result of the ten years of fuel duty freeze – but this framing hides the fact that when you factor in how many miles are driven, then the highest income group has benefited around £1760 and the lowest £570.

chart showing miles driven by each income group

Just to put the figures in context, the cumulative £1200 benefit would fund three and half years of access to all public transport for the city of Vienna. It is a choice where we put our tax breaks and subsidy.

It widens the affordability gap to public transport

Household expenditure on fuel is around one-third of all motoring costs, the remainder being purchase, insurance, parking, servicing and repairs. In the decade 2008 to 2018, the Retail Price Index (a measure of how much things cost) has increased 31% in real terms. Overall motoring costs have increased by the same amount with fuel costs increasing by less (15%) but costs like insurance rising more quickly.

It is when you compare the price increases with public transport that the arguments for holding back fuel duty rises seem bizarre. Rail costs have increased by 49% and bus, coach and taxi by 66% over the decade to 2018, more than twice the rise in motoring costs. This is a result, in part, of deliberate government decisions to recover a greater percentage of the costs of running the railway from passengers by allowing large annual fare increases. The bottom line is that public transport is being made less affordable than driving.

It pushes more people into car ownership who cannot afford it

How can a policy which is holding down prices on fuel be bad for those who are hard up? The reason for this is that around five per cent of all households own a car despite not having enough money for items such as a washing machine, adequate heating or one week’s holiday away from home. This figure is 11% for households with four or more people (hard-working families perhaps?). This is referred to as forced car-ownership. More in-depth analysis of the reasons for this shows that people get access to a car to overcome the expense, limited service patterns and lack of early morning and evening provision of public transport. This is coupled with less secure employment and housing insecurity in the private rented sector to create conditions where a significant proportion of the population are forced to own a car to work around these wider failings in public service provision. It is certainly not a desirable choice to own a car at the expense of basics such as heating or phone access – such decisions are driven by necessity not luxury. This can be contrasted with Germany where only 5% of households with four or more people fall into the forced car ownership category. Again, the decision to provide tax breaks for fossil fuels rather than to fund public transport is a policy choice, and one which draws people into needing a car when they cannot afford one even with a fuel duty subsidy.

Forced car ownership – if you own a car and cannot afford three of these
1. to face unexpected expenses (of an amount equivalent to the monthly poverty line in the respondent’s country);
2. one week annual holiday away from home;
3. to pay for arrears (for mortgage or rent, utility bills or hire purchase installments);
4. a meal with meat, chicken or fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day;
5. to keep home adequately warm;
6. to have a washing machine;
7. to have a colour TV;
8. to have a telephone (fixed landline or mobile);

It generates extra traffic

There has never been a clear narrative about what fuel duty is for, even during the time of the fuel duty escalator in the 1990s. What policy arguments might have existed for using it as a tool to manage travel demand seemed to evaporate at the time of the Fuel Duty Protests and have yet to re-appear. What is irrefutable is that when prices rise, demand drops, and when prices fall, demand rises. Estimates vary but in the short run, for every 10% increase in fuel price distance travelled falls between 1% and 5% and vice versa. So, the policy of the past decade has been to stimulate a growth in road traffic which, in turn, fuels demand for more road infrastructure to tackle the even busier pinch points which result. All of this is contributing to the climate change problem and is one of the reasons why emissions from transport have flat-lined and are now the largest sector of the economy.

We have known since the oil price spikes of the 1970s that one way in which people respond to fuel price increases has been to buy more fuel-efficient cars. What has become clear over the past decade is that cheaper motoring costs, coupled with cheaper financing deals for new cars has flipped this on its head. Research has recently shown that sales of Sports Utility Vehicles have outstripped sales of Battery Electric Vehicles by 37 to 1 in 2018, almost quadrupling to 21% of all new car sales over the past decade.

Of course, fuel duty is a fairly limited policy tool. It is a one-size fits all tool which has to work in rural and urban areas. It is also increasingly subject to challenge given the ambition for all new cars to be electric by 2035. There will not be any fuel duty by 2035 and we currently just pay 20% VAT on domestic electricity. If no changes are made to how we pay for travel, the Department for Transport suggests that by 2050 traffic levels will have risen by 42% more than if we did not make switch to electric. Think of the additional demands for road construction and the pressure on our urban areas where expansion is not possible that this would bring! Is that a future we want? Given that we cannot muster the political will to deliver even a marginal increase in fuel duty, I am sceptical that we can find the will to address this urgently needed system wide transition.

Do hard-working families benefit from the fuel duty freeze?

Where to start on this one? Well, of course some do. But what about the households that don’t own a car? The ones facing annual price hikes for public transport? Around one in four UK households do not own a car. This is as high as 45% in London and as low as 15% in the South West. Perhaps the people in the South West all work harder than those in London? As I showed earlier, the highest income families will get three times as much benefit from the fuel duty freeze compared to the lowest earning families. Perhaps the rich work harder than the poor then? These comparisons are as ridiculous as the ‘hard-working families’ trope itself. If this is about lowering the cost of living for families who are struggling, then it is extremely poorly targeted.

In conclusion

As the terrible events surrounding the outbreak of the Coronavirus continue to unfold, it could seem trivial to debate one or two pence on the cost of a litre of fuel. However, when life begins to return to ‘normal’ the points raised above will not have gone away, and the climate emergency will still be here. It seems likely that oil prices will be depressed as the global economy faces a long recovery period so, what funds are available will best be targeted towards helping the public transport system recover and supporting the most vulnerable and hard-up to use it. Hopefully, this is the end of the road for fuel duty freezes.

Budget 2020 – Transport: We can’t build our way out of the climate challenge

DecarboN8 Director, Professor Greg Marsden, analyses the implications of Budget 2020 for decarbonising transport

The budget is a missed opportunity to rebalance what we spend our transport funding on. Too much capital spending on road schemes will undermine the increases in spending on public transport, as will the 10th consecutive year of frozen fuel duty. Experience shows roadbuilding just generates more traffic and we can no longer afford to add to the size of the carbon challenge.  When the climate emergency demands a new approach that commits governments to create the conditions where we can travel less by car, we are spending more on roads.

The Budget proposes a £5.2bn budget for spending on major infrastructure investment in our major cities, all to be spoken for by 2025. This is on top of £5bn announced for investment in walking, cycling and bus improvements. This is all welcome and necessary but insufficient. Even with the most optimistic EV adoption pathways we will need to reduce the amount we travel by car by at least 10% and more than double bus, rail and cycling by 2030 and then do even more out to 2050. This funding will help deliver major public transport capacity improvements. However, we also require subsidy for service frequencies and fares to enable more routes to be available at more times of the day and night so people can use public transport for their everyday needs. We see no sign of this switch to revenue support in the budget, where capital spending remains king.

Contrast the £5.2bn for public transport to “the largest ever investment in English strategic roads, with over £27 billion between 2020 and 2025”. When we build more roads or add capacity we encourage more driving. Add to this the freeze in fuel duty for a “record tenth year in a row”. The OBR estimates that fuel duty freezes mean there has been a 40% real-terms fall in the tax share of GDP which fuel duty provides since 1990 as motoring gets cheaper. The result? New car sales of SUVs have sky rocketed as consumers have traded up the lower costs of motoring and better engine technology to bigger cars. 37 SUVs were sold for every Battery Electric Car in 2018. Whilst there is a welcome continuation of incentives for the Plug-in-Car Grant those are still well below those in countries such as Norway who lead the way.

If we cannot be compliant with our carbon pathway without reducing how much we drive then why on earth are we building more roads? They won’t be needed if the other things we have to do take priority. At the very least there should be a moratorium on new road construction until the penetration of EVs in the fleet is close to 100% – so not any time in the period of this budget. One of the key problems is that the Treasury appears to be writing the cheques on what the balance of spending will be before the Department for Transport publishes its long awaited Decarbonisation Strategy. Given the recent experience with the legal challenge to the third runway at Heathrow, it would not be surprising to see further court challenge to this “infrastructure first” approach in the coming months.

The focus on shovel-ready infrastructure expansion on the roads will, regrettably simply dig us a bigger climate hole to get out of.

induced demand

Thank you to everyone who attended our Launch Event!

Thank you to everyone who participated and helped contribute to the packed agenda full of challenging and inspiring ideas about place-based decarbonisation of transport for the North.

Thanks too to everyone who joined us online for the morning via our livestream and Q&A. If you missed it you can check out the recording on YouTube!

And our friends at Influential produced this short video for the N8 Research Partnership about the day.

Ideas and contributions from the day have been collated to help inform our priorities and agenda for the future of DecarboN8. The slides are available to review on SlideShare:

The launch was of course just the start – in the coming weeks and months we have many more opportunities for you to get involved and work with us to decarbonise transport across the North:

Seedcorn Funding Call NOW OPEN:

Check our our funding pages for details of our first round of seedcorn funding. A pot of £100,000 is available to support individual or collaborative seed/pilot/demonstrator projects led by UK Research Organisations. The deadline for applications is 5pm (GMT) on Thursday 27 February 2020.

DecarboN8 Stakeholder Reference Group

Our advisory group made up of individuals providing place or sector specific insight. This group will help shape the research agenda, connect with networks, review publications and evaluate projects. Please apply now if you’d like to get involved!

Keep in touch

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Social Acceptance and Societal Readiness Levels

Monika Büscher and Nicola Spurling

Social change is critical to rapid decarbonisation. Citizens’ active participation in energy management is ‘as critical as technology’ for sustainability[1]; not least because social innovation could support decarbonisation at scale, and faster than technical or infrastructural innovation[2].  However, technocratic conceptions of social acceptance and societal readiness are misdirected. Innovation cannot succeed by demanding that individuals and society change to accept it.

Decarbon8 develops a new framework to evaluate the societal readiness of socio-technical innovations. This working note motivates this move in outline, provides working definitions of social acceptance and societal readiness from a socio-technical perspective, a sketch of the Societal Readiness Levels (SRL) framework for evaluation we are developing, and a set of questions that research teams can use to develop the societal readiness of their innovations.   

Why take a socio-technical approach to social acceptability and societal readiness?

At a time when millions of people across the globe are demanding action on climate change, and 88% of UK citizens understand that human action is mainly or partly responsible for climate change[3], it can hardly be said that society is not ready for change. However, our innovations often do not enable change. People are imprisoned by mobility systems that leave them very little real choice over how to travel[4]. Indeed, the depth of systemic lock-in and the demand for social acceptance of narrow technological fixes (electric vehicles) and policy interventions (carbon taxes) delay action towards systemic and structural change[5]. We are headed for failure if we continue to design technologies, policies, infrastructures, ideologies that people cannot integrate into their everyday lives. The social acceptability of our solutions must improve. Methodologies that allow citizens genuine participation in innovation processes are needed[6]. A socio-technical approach can enhance the ambition and effectiveness of innovations by inspiring socially acceptable design for systemic change and societal transformation.

What is social acceptance in a socio-technical definition?

The social science is in: the ABC of transition theories, which all too often posit that education, nudging, or enforcement can effect social acceptance, is wrong[7]. A change of A – individuals’ Attitudes, will not automatically translate into B – Behaviour change, and ultimately C – Change in the system. Technocratic concepts equate social acceptance with behaviour change, evaluating the willingness of individuals to ‘take’ the technologies, policies, infrastructure innovations that experts devise. This hubris denies that there are factors that make technologies, policies, infrastructures more or less acceptable for people – they may not be desirable, useable or effective for good reasons. 

A socio-technical definition of social acceptance helps us understand these reasons. It sees acceptance as a process by which innovation becomes embedded in everyday practices, that needs to be supported by good design and creative, inclusive design methods. It enables a focus on enhancing the acceptability of solutions. This may imply careful attention to useability, and the context of appropriation, it may require wider systemic change, it will often depend on stakeholder value chain mapping, and methods of collaborative design and responsible research and innovation. 

What is societal readiness in a socio-technical definition?

Societal readiness refers to the readiness of a socio-technical assemblage to be acceptable to society. That is, it evaluates how well a solution supports appropriation at scale and at speed, as well as how it contributes to the public good. For example, a fully digitised on-demand transport solution may be highly practical and fit for appropriation. However, it may introduce societally unacceptable levels of surveillance. As a result, it has low societal readiness. Its societal readiness can be improved by building privacy preserving techniques into its use of data and by involving citizens and stakeholders in an iterative design process that discloses and addresses emerging unintended consequences through creative ethical and social impact assessment and design. To give a second example, a solution may be highly acceptable to affluent citizens with high mobility capital, but create mobility injustice for others. By anticipating and addressing issues of equity, gender, age, class, ethnicity and other aspects of inequality, innovations can be enhanced.

What is the role of place in societal readiness?

Technocratic approaches are often based on an approach to innovation in which ‘solutions’ are developed for imagined, generic users, in non-specific places. If people or places do not share the vision, they are seen as the problem. 

In DecarboN8 we disagree with this point of view. 

DecarboN8’s place-based approach addresses challenges faced across the North as specific, and very diverse places are seeking to rapidly decarbonise transport. Understanding place is an essential starting point for making decarbonised transport futures. 

A key question is: How can we ensure that innovations in decarbonised travel are ready for specific places? This requires taking account of place-specific characteristics including:

  1. existing transport infrastructures and services that vary by place – this variety of starting points should feature in future designs; 
  2. populations vary by age, disability, gender, ethnicity with different implications for inclusivity and access; 
  3. different place-specific systems and cultures of mobility mean that lifestyles need to change in different ways; 
  4. the end uses underpinning travel demands have different profiles across the region. 

DecarboN8’s place-based approach emphasises that innovation must be designed and combined in ways that are more attuned to how people wish to, and are able to, practice transformation in different places.

Societal Readiness Levels (SRL)

There is currently a surge of interest in societal readiness, and various definitions of ‘societal readiness levels’ are emerging. The SRL concept originates in debates about a transition towards low carbon futures2 and the Danish Innovation Fund’s attempt to find a ‘way of assessing the level of societal adaptation of … innovation to be integrated into society’[8]. This contrasts with the more common approach of technology readiness levels[9], which evaluates how ‘proposed solution(s)’ meet ‘plans for societal adaptation’. For example, in the context of future transport, a technology readiness approach would evaluate the decarbonising potential of a proposed innovation, and place responsibility for increasing society’s readiness for it with individuals, communities, societies, politicians, and policy makers. It would propose innovations and then ask how to alter people’s attitudes and behaviours to effect change.  

DecarboN8 is critical of this technology readiness approach. 

The societal readiness levels that we are developing (see figure 1) turns the tables. Instead of asking how society can be made ready for innovations, we ask: How ready are our socio-technical innovations for society?
Figure 1: Socio-technical definition of societal readiness levels

At the lower levels in our emerging socio-technical framework of societal readiness levels, are concepts and technologies like electric vehicles, which have the potential to support systemic change but are isolated from real world practice and lacking societal and material infrastructure for large-scale appropriation. Moving up the scale are experimental embeddings of technologies, such as the Tyndall Travel Strategy and the University of Edinburgh’s business travel reporting tool prototype, which are being effectively used to reduce emissions from academic travel, and are engendering social innovations, such as no-fly academic conferences. Within its 2019-2022 remit, the DecarboN8 Network aims to reach innovations that are at SRL4 and 5. Plans for future efforts envisage achievement of SRL 8 and 9, with liveable, effective, significantly decarbonising innovations (net zero carbon), which are aligned with systemic changes and evaluated as societally ‘good’ by a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, including citizens.

Achievement of high Societal Readiness Levels depends upon engagement with diverse stakeholders and translation of insight into synchronised technical, regulatory, policy, and social innovation. Discussion of ‘Impact Readiness Levels’[10] by the Dandelion project on an inclusive, innovative and reflective societies-sensitive valorisation concept offer valuable insight into the kinds of engagements with stakeholders that are conducive to our aims. 

How to design for societal readiness?

The DecarboN8 network seeks to facilitate co-creation of a socio-technical framework for achieving high-quality innovation for rapid decarbonisation of transport in the UK. The discussion in this document is intended as an invitation to members of the network to engage critically with the notions of social acceptance and societal readiness, and co-create a good framework with us.

Below we raise some questions that we believe can support designing for socio-technical societal readiness. They are by no means exhaustive or prescriptive:

  • Is your innovation (technology / policy / infrastructure / transport plan / form of activism) ready for the individuals, communities in our society? 
  • Is your innovation good for society? Now and in future? How do you know? What are the contextual and systemic dimensions of your innovation?  
  • Have you considered all relevant perspectives? Who has been involved in your design process and how? Have all those affected had a say? Have they been listened to? Have you made it possible for the less powerful to be heard on an equal footing?
  • Have people had an opportunity to try out your innovation in their everyday lives? Have you undertaken multiple iterations of your design to discover disruptive consequences?  
  • Have you considered and addressed ethical issues, from accessibility to mobility justice to datafication? From individual to societal scales? Now and future generations? 

[1] EU Commission(2012) Energy roadmap 2050. Publications Office of the European Union.ISBN 978-92-79-21798-2, doi:10.2833/10759.

[2] Allwood, J. M., Gutowski, T. G., Serrenho, A. C., Skelton, A. C. H., & Worrell, E. (2017, June 13). Industry 1.61803: The transition to an industry with reduced material demand fit for a low carbon future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. Royal Society.

[3]  YouGov – International Climate Change Survey, Fieldwork: 11 June – 22 July 2019

[4] Anthony Rae, 25th November DecarboN8 Launch, Leeds Crowne Plaza Hotel; Urry, J. (2004). The ‘System’ of Automobility. Theory, Culture & Society, 21(4–5), 25–39.

[5] UNEP (2019) United Nations Environment Programme. Emissions Gap Report 2019. UNEP, Nairobi. P. 54

[6] Cardullo, P., & Kitchin, R. (2019). Being a ‘citizen’ in the smart city: up and down the scaffold of smart citizen participation in Dublin, Ireland. GeoJournal, 84(1).

[7] Shove, E. (2010). Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environment and Planning A, 42(6), 1273 – 1285.

[8] Danish Innovation Fund, 2019,; Schraudner, Martina, Fabian Schroth, Malte Juetting, Simone Kaiser, Jeremy Millard, and Shenja van der Graaf. 2018. ‘Social Innovation The Potential for Technology Development, RTOs and Industry.  Policy Paper’. Fraunhofer.

[9]  Mankins, John C. 1995. ‘Technology Readiness Levels. White Paper’. NASA.

[10] Dandelion Project. (2018). IIRS Valorisation Methodology.

Talking Transport at the Leeds Climate Strike

Shona McCulloch, DecarboN8 Network Coordinator

The Climate Strike in Leeds on Friday was one of the best attended demonstrations I’ve seen over my years in the city. The atmosphere was energetic and optimistic, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together in the sun to support the global youth-led movement to stop climate change.

Whilst the blazing sun and clear blue skies raised people’s spirits, they also served to underline the issue: it was 20°C, which is 8°C hotter than Leeds’ average for this time of year.

Some of the protesters kindly shared their time to explain how they thought transport could be decarbonised where they live, to help end the climate crisis.


“Public transport is far too costly to justify using it long term. I used to go to school on the train and as soon as I was able to drive it was cheaper for me to take a car, so it needs to be a lot cheaper to encourage people to use it. Keighley has a lot of really good transport connections in terms of you can get pretty much everywhere, but it’s just so expensive, even with a Railcard it costs a lot of money to go anywhere in the country really.

“For example, last summer I was able to InterRail around Europe for less than £400, I went to 8 different countries, but if I just wanted to go Skipton for a month it would cost me about the same amount! It cost me £80 to get to Inverness the other week, and that was with an advance fare and with one of these split tickets you can do now that are cheaper, but even so, that was extortionate. I think that the more expensive you make it the fewer people use it, so the less they can invest in making it better, so they’re in a downward spiral and it’s not going to get better unless there are some changes from the very top.

“The buses are too expensive as well, because I’m used to public transport in London where I study, where for £1.50 I can travel for an hour on the bus. I came back here at the beginning of summer and was getting a bus from my grandparents’ house, they live in Clayton in Bradford, just down to the town centre, and it cost me £2.50 for a single, and it was walking distance, it’s too much. The thing is in London transport works, I mean of course you do see loads of cars in London, but for most people they tend to use public transport because it’s the most efficient way to travel in London, it works and it’s affordable.”

Valentine (right)

“I live in the city centre and I don’t drive at all, I usually take the bus a lot, and I think there’s this thing in England where the way buses are priced is really, really expensive and really weird, and that doesn’t push people to take the bus, rather it pushes them to use their cars.”

Richard (Burgon, MP for Leeds East)

“I’m here today because free market fundamentalism has actually brought the globe to the brink of climate catastrophe. It’s killing species around the world, and if anyone thinks that the species of humanity is somehow immune from this threat, then they’re wrong, because this really could see the end of humanity on this planet. So I’m here today to say enough is enough, to celebrate the fact that trade unions and young people leading grassroots campaigns against climate catastrophe are working together.

“Cross Gates, where I live, has a train service which I use. It would be good to have those trains more frequently, and I think we need an expansion of train services, and we need to bring the buses back into local authority regulation. It’s very easy to condemn people for not using public transport, but when the public transport is not there for them to use, or is disproportionately expensive, or disproportionately awkward, or requires older or vulnerable people or women to walk on their own through secluded areas to get to bus stops etc. that needs to change as well.”


“I live just outside Leeds, and I walked to work today and then to the strike. Leeds needs better buses, more reliable buses, better cycle routes that aren’t as dangerous, and maybe cycle paths you don’t have to share with a bus. Putting a cycle lane and a bus in the same place is quite scary, I would cycle more if it was safer.”


“I live up Meanwood / Moortown way and work over in Gipton, and since there are no buses that go that way, and I don’t want to cycle with the traffic, I went by car to work this morning and then I’ve come by car into the city centre.

“I think there needs to be a decent public transport system across Leeds that doesn’t just centre on the city centre, it needs to link across the city centre. I think there need to be roads that are simply for bikes and, it’s a bit of a contradiction, but turning all the streetlights off after midnight is not particularly helpful or safe for cyclists either.”

John and Kina

John: “As a union branch (UNISON at Leeds Teaching Hospitals) we recognise that Leeds Teaching Hospitals has a massive carbon footprint because of all the travel that comes into Leeds, what with all the staff and all the patients and ambulances, so I think we’ve got a responsibility to discuss how in 2019 people travel to work and to think about public transport. I think public transport should be nationalised.”

Kina: “I usually use public transport and I live in South Leeds. Public transport is rubbish where I live to be honest, it’s very unreliable, but I got here, which is the most important thing! I don’t know how the transport could be improved really because the buses aren’t electric are they? Not all of them. So hopefully, with this protest, they would consider that and make some changes in the near future.”

John: “I come to Leeds every day on the bus from Morley, the service is rubbish, really infrequent, and I think, yes, electric buses, I completely agree with that, but also the frequency: if they were more frequent, more reliable – which is important, they’re very unreliable – fewer people would use their car. If you knew your bus was coming you’d use the bus. You know, people tend to take the easier option, because they’re not sure of the service, if you think “I’ve got to get to work in X amount of minutes” and you know that the bus may or may not come, you might have to take the safe option.

“Patients always get very upset about the cost of parking at the hospital, that’s the main thing, but you know maybe we should be looking at that in a different way, looking for out of town car parking and then park and ride systems, because that’ll take the pressure off patients from having to worry about car parking fees.”

Kevin and Vicky

Kevin: “I’m here to support the workers on strike and the students that are on strike as well, I’m involved in the local Trades Union Council, the Socialist Party, and the Unite Community union, and we want to support the young people taking this action. We think there’s a responsibility on the trade union movement to come up with proper solutions to the climate emergency. We’ve challenged the government, but we’ve equally challenged the trade union movement to come up with solutions, so we’re promoting the Leeds TUC Climate Change conference on the 19th October.”

Vicky: “I’m a socialist and trade unionist, and as Kevin says I think it falls to the trade unions to support the lead that’s been taken by young people over getting out on the streets, walking out of schools and colleges, and making a stand against climate change, but not just that but also system change.

“Just on a tiny microcosmic scale, I live in a satellite type small town where we have two bus companies that service us into the main hub (Sowerby Bridge), they rival each other to provide the service and they run their buses three minutes apart on the hour, so that they can try and jostle for the business, which leaves us waiting an hour for a bus, and is an absolute joke. I’m in favour of nationalising the transport system, properly integrating it, and letting us do our part to help save the planet.”

“I got here today by getting the hourly bus, one of them, luckily, which took me to Sowerby Bridge where I jumped on a train and came to Leeds. My journey was good, I’m a driver but I prefer not to use the car, I don’t have a car at the moment, and I am an advocate for a properly run integrated nationalised transport system. We need to end the transport situation that we’re living with which is absolute joke, for old people as well, I mean, I can walk to the local station, but what if you can’t?”


“I live between Headingley and Meanwood and I walk through the woods to work every day. Leeds needs massive improvements in infrastructure for walking and cycling, and better public transport, better subsidised, and much better public transport going around the city as well as going in and out, like the number 91 bus for example.

“By better I mean more frequent and reliable, at the moment there’s some days when the 91 bus is only once an hour, or it doesn’t even turn up, so trying to get from Meanwood to Pudsey, which a lot of people do, it just doesn’t come, and so, it’s just very, very difficult. I do as much as I can with the local Greens, I’m the coordinator of Headingley Green Party, so I do as much as I can to lobby for better transport.”

Isobella, Ellie and Chris

Isobella: “I live in Pudsey and I cycled here today. There was a lot of traffic, there’s a lot of pollution so I usually cycle with a mask, but it’s in the washing machine, so I didn’t wear it today and I could just smell all the fumes, it was awful.”

Ellie: “I’m not sure if this is a viable option but could we have electric buses? In Pudsey? In Bristol where I go to uni I’m pretty sure that all of the buses are electric, so I don’t see why we can’t have that. Or trams?”

Chris: “Yeah there was talk a few years ago about having trams in and around Leeds, but it didn’t happen due to costs and changes in the council. Where I live, it’s a small village, one of the trams did come pretty near, and it would have made life so much easier: yes it would have meant having to change half way, so the journey would’ve been longer, but it would’ve been greener. Even the buses around Leeds, a lot of them are now hybrids which is great, but if they’re only local services why do they need a great big diesel engine?”

Ellie: “Also, whenever I wait for the bus I always look at the cars going past the bus stop, and the majority of them have one person in them, so if all those people just got off the road, and got on a bus, then you know, we’d have probably more buses, because we would need more buses, but there would be so much more space on the road, and there would be so much less pollution.”

Isobella: “They need to stop cancelling every other train, that’s really annoying, because sometimes I’ll cycle in and get the train home, or get the train in and cycle home, and the buses don’t run frequently, and the trains are really bad, especially for wheelchair access as some of them don’t have an accessible toilet. We get two-carriage trains for the Leeds-Manchester rush hour, two of the biggest cities in the UK at the busiest time of the day, so it just doesn’t make sense does it?”

DecarboN8 is looking at how to cut carbon from transport in the short and long-term. As can be seen from people’s day to day experiences of transport in and around Leeds, there is a lot that could be done today without huge innovation, if priorities were set differently. We will be doing more to explore carbon quick wins in the coming months.

DecarboN8 at the Newcastle Climate Strike

Dr Sara Walker, Newcastle University

Today on 20th September I joined the climate strike. Newcastle University had an information stand outside Kings Gate Building, opposite the Civic Centre rally point for the Newcastle City climate strike. Staff were on hand to talk to colleagues, students and the public about our work, and how it can contribute to climate change mitigation.

Newcastle University has declared a climate emergency and is inviting staff, students and the public to join an event on 15th November, to begin the conversation about what we can and should do as thought leaders in this space, and I find it refreshing to see the University engaging with the local community on this topic.

Whilst I stood at the stand on this glorious autumn day (it is 19C here today, above the average of 10-15C for this time of year) it was a little easier to feel optimistic about the future. Millions around the globe are taking action. Small steps by individuals which cumulatively add to a crescendo of voices.

Shared mobility – where now, where next? Second report of the Commission on Travel Demand

Today at the Smart Transport Conference in Birmingham, DecarboN8 lead, Greg Marsden, launched the CREDS (Commission on Travel Demand) Shared Mobility Inquiry report.

The report makes 20 recommendations, outlining how the UK could use shared mobility to help meet our Net Zero by 2050 commitment.

By ‘shared mobility’ the report refers to:

Shared ownership: where use of a vehicle is shared between people, i.e. ‘car clubs’, car share schemes, fractional ownership, and bike share schemes.

Shared at the point of use: pay-per-trip ride sharing (or trip sharing) like airport shuttles. In the future, this may include ‘robot taxis’ where self-driving vehicles pick up and drop off different people as needed.

The report notes that shared mobility is a relatively cheap and easy way to cut emissions from transport, by better utilising the technology and infrastructure we already have:

“More intensive use of fewer vehicles already offers a cost-effective, socially progressive and implementable set of options to cut carbon.”

The report also points out the dangers of not moving towards increased sharing, noting that even if all vehicles were electric by 2050, sustaining the current rate of growth in individual car use would be incredibly resource-intensive.

Business as usual projection of growth in car ownership

Buisness as usual projection of growth in car ownership
Image by CREDS

Of particular interest to DecarboN8 is the report’s emphasis on finding different solutions for the edges of towns and rural areas. These places often have fewer alternatives than cities and so will need different ways to access cars in a more shared future. The report also recommends shared travel hubs alongside on busy motorway corridors which could apply to the North.

Challenging those who think sharing would be too difficult a policy to sell, the report asks:

“If not sharing, then what? What policies will reduce the energy requirements of building the vehicle fleet, even when it is electric? Which policies will enable both short-term and long-term carbon pathway compliant transport policy? What makes other policy options more palatable than a major focus on increased sharing?”

The inquiry found that shared mobility could contribute to rapidly decarbonising transport as part of a wider mix of integrated transport options, and that it would offer additional benefits in terms of congestion, financial inclusion, and social integration.

Visit CREDS to see the full report, recommendations and a graphic summarising the main messages.