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Active travel is ‘low hanging fruit’ in the race for Net Zero

Active travel is ‘low hanging fruit’ in the race for Net Zero

Earlier this week, the UK government announced £5 million extra funding for local authorities ‘to deliver innovative projects to improve air quality’. While many of the challenges that councils face are complex, the challenge of reducing road traffic emissions – still one of the greatest contributors to air pollution, particularly in cities – is relatively straightforward: change people’s transport behaviour. Easier said than done, but it can be done – and some local authorities are already doing it.

However, it won’t be done by improving infrastructures alone. In fact, according to Defra, while pollution from industrial and domestic sources tends to be ‘steady or improving’, ‘traffic pollution problems are worsening world-wide.’

Infrastructures are important, of course, but they need buy-in from the public to be worth the investment. People have to care about the infrastructures they’re expected to use and engage with them; they need to experience them for themselves, to feel a valued part of their development and to enjoy being involved. Some local authorities have cottoned on to this, but others are already abandoning their new, greener systems in response to pressure, because their plans lacked that vital ingredient: people. 

Infrastructures are built for people. Without people, they are useless – and a massive waste of public money. Until now, though, reaching people at a large scale and changing their behaviour was very tricky and costly, which meant it was easier not to try. Now, thanks to technology and innovation, it’s a lot simpler and cheaper to achieve – and it’s working.

More than half of journeys tracked in a targeted campaign in Leicester reportedly replaced a car trip. Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council use the BetterPoints behaviour change platform to encourage the use of their evolving sustainable transport infrastructure, and to measure its success.

Over two six-month programmes in Bologna, Italy, 1.9 million active or sustainable journeys were recorded by 22,000 people, offsetting an estimated 1.4 million kg of Co2 emissions. A staggering 63% of participants said it motivated them to use their cars less.

‘We desperately need to get on top of air pollution, for the sake of our own health, the health of our children, and the health of the planet,’ says Richard Kirk, CEO of BetterPoints.

‘Road vehicles are still a key culprit in UK cities, so we have to change the culture: we have to get people away from single-occupancy car journeys and into using more sustainable modes of transport. Platforms like BetterPoints can do that, which means those changes of habit are actually within our grasp – for many local authorities, road traffic is the low-hanging fruit in this fight against air pollution.’