Travelwise conference

Travelwise conference video speech by Norman Baker MP.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Norman Baker

Transport Minister Norman Baker gave a video address to delegates of ‘Local Choice, National Benefit’, a West Midlands Travelwise conference held on 20 April 2012. With 22% of UK domestic carbon emissions coming from transport, he explains why there is a real need for people to travel differently. He is keen to encourage a modal shift towards leaner and greener travel, in other words, getting from A to B with smaller carbon footprints.

Travelwise Conference


Hello, and thank you for asking me along to your conference today.

While it would be good to meet you all in person, a virtual appearance allows me to demonstrate what I like to call the 5th mode of transport. As well as air, rail, sea and roads, we also have a further option - alternatives to travel.

Whether it’s buses or bicycles, trains or trams, walking or the web - our transport system offers something for everyone.

But with 22% of UK domestic carbon emissions from transport, the need for people to travel differently is plain. That’s why I’ve been clear that we want to see modal shift towards leaner and greener travel - getting from A to B with smaller footprints.

Let’s start at the top - or the bottom, depending on how you think about it - with the car.

Many still prefer the freedom of their own 4 wheels, and that’s why we’ve pledged to take the carbon out of the car.

We’re putting £400 million into electric and low carbon vehicles, and setting up local charging networks in areas across the country through our Plugged-In Places programme.

And we’re backing low carbon buses - which emit nearly a third less carbon than their conventional counterparts - through our Green Bus Fund.

Let’s move on.

We’re ‘greening’ our railways by electrifying lines. And reducing consumption per train.

We’re supporting proposed extensions to existing light rail systems such as the Midland Metro Line One to Birmingham New Street Station.

And we’re investing in high speed rail which will see clear benefits to the people of Birmingham - direct links to the continent, a huge uplift in capacity and a genuine alternative to domestic air travel.

This is the kind of investment that will help us break out of the one track approach to transport, giving more people more genuine travel choices.

Moving on again, improvements in infrastructure aren’t all big ticket items down to central government.

The £560 million available in our Local Sustainable Transport Fund is giving local authorities the means to create transport solutions to fix problems in their local areas.

One beneficiary is Bike North Birmingham. It’s providing cycling infrastructure in Sutton Coldfield where the poor integration of transport networks, coupled with an over reliance on private cars for short trips, has resulted in high carbon emissions.

But though these improvements have undoubtedly been - and will continue to be - important, the real game changer has been something else - communications technology.

The email, the laptop, the internet superhighway - each of these inventions has redefined our world and together they stand poised to revolutionise our travel behaviour.

It’s like counting up so far, only to re-discover the power of zero.

You don’t need to jump in your car anymore to make those vital connections between people and places, companies and clients - you can do it virtually via video conference or webinar.

What’s more, climate change has given us an iron-cast reason for using this type of technology. This government has set itself the most challenging target on climate change yet - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 1990 levels between 2023 to 2027. That’s equivalent to nearly 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

But having different travel options and getting people to make different travel choices are 2 entirely separate things.

Travelwise know this better than most. You and this agenda go back a long way. In fact, many of your members were working on this in the mid-nineties as part of predecessor organisations.

I don’t doubt the significant impact you’ve already had - although I don’t think it would be overstepping the mark to say it’s been an uphill struggle!

Even today we find that most people still prefer one method of getting into work above all others.

And that includes the iPod generation, who are undoubtedly aware of the travel alternatives out there and recognise more than most the need to change their travel.

It is just as JK Galbraith once said: “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.”

Psychologists have a name for this type of behaviour - they call it cognitive dissonance.

I call it a missed opportunity.

After all, the evidence shows that those organisations who encourage a different approach to travel reap the rewards.

On one level this is about resilience. In an age of 24/7 communications people expect a 24 hour service come rain or shine. The company that is prepared will be the one that succeeds.

But it’s more than that.

Cisco found that the use of telepresence technology alone saved the company $759 million in direct travel costs over 4 years, and the use of business video removed the need for travel in a third of meetings.

And over the last 5 years, the Environment Agency has reduced total business mileage by 19.3 million miles and saved around 5,000 tonnes of CO₂. The agency currently hold around 6000 teleconferences and web conferences a month and it is estimated that each of these saves £389 in travel and subsistence costs, 605 miles and 175 kilograms of CO₂.

Centro - the integrated transport authority here in the West Midlands - has embedded flexible working across the organisation. Its flexible hours working scheme means employees can organise their work around quieter travel times. Centro also encourages the use of mobile technologies - providing Blackberry smartphones, supporting home working, using conference calling, and they’ve just introduced videoconferencing facilities.

All this has resulted in increased business effectiveness - and has also had a positive effect on employee health and well being. The average number of days sick leave has halved to an average of just 6 days per employee - below the average for the private sector.

Meanwhile, by operating a flexible hours system, Centro has found its traffic and emissions are spread out over the course of the day instead of intensely concentrated for short periods of time.

Nor should we be surprised at the University of Bradford’s findings that virtual meeting technologies improved well-being: reducing stress, ensuring people were more in control of their time, and enhancing communication with colleagues.

By testing the waters, these pioneering companies have made a practical case for travel alternatives. But that alone is not enough. We need partnerships of the willing, public and private, ready to come forward and advocate for this agenda.

I’m glad to report this is starting to happen.

For example, through the Anywhere Working initiative, businesses united around the benefits of communications technology and remote working to promote smarter ways of working to businesses and individuals.

In Whitehall, we’re using the Olympics as a way to encourage more flexible travelling and working.

During our trial travel week in February the Department for Transport was joined by 12 government departments all trying to positively change their commuting travel by 50%.

It could be by reducing or retiming journeys, by taking different modes of transport, or by rerouting to avoid areas that will become transport ‘hotspots’ during the Olympics. In the event the Department for Transport managed to positively change 71% of commuter journeys.

But despite this progress there’s plenty of work to do. Our investment in infrastructure both centrally and locally will continue.

And if we want to encourage people to make different choices, we have to think more about their end-to-end journeys.

This isn’t just about getting on the train but purchasing a ticket too. Smart ticketing offers the potential for new flexible tickets that suit the flexibility of modern working patterns and can encourage more efficient use of the transport network.

Significantly, we’re on track to provide the infrastructure that will enable most public transport journeys to be undertaken using smart ticketing by 2014.

But government has only ever been part of this story. With our local partners we can make sure local people have travel options. But they have to take the next step for themselves.

So what should they do?

I think it’s time to dust down your green cross code and remember those life changing words: stop, look and listen.

Before deciding to travel, we want people to stop and think about whether it’s absolutely necessary to travel.

We want people to look. Use our Transport Direct carbon calculator and the numerous travel apps on the market, to explore the travel options out there.

And we want people to listen. There’s not just good advice out there but real practical examples of how this work can make a difference - you’ll find plenty on the Anywhere Working website and I’m sure you’ll hear about more today.

Like the Green Cross Code, once you start making smarter travel choices it should become second nature, a normal way of doing business.

Changing the way you and your organisation travel will not simply benefit you but our environment and economy as a whole.

So, when it comes to alternatives to travel, we’re simply saying give it a go.

Published 24 April 2012