Sustainable travel choices are the quickest and most effective way to get us on track to meet net zero targets, says CPT CEO Graham Vidler

In the coming weeks we will see the government publish its Transport Decarbonisation Plan, setting out how the transport sector should progress to net zero. The key thing I’ll be looking for is a clear focus on helping people change their journey choices – modal shift – alongside measures to drive change in vehicle powertrains.

Making more sustainable travel choices is the quickest and most effective way to get us on track to meet our net zero targets. It is not just me saying that: The government’s own climate adviser, the Committee on Climate Change, thinks we need to see around a 10% shift from car to bus journeys by 2030. This equates to two billion more bus journeys annually by 2030 compared to 2019.

When you look at the emissions from different transport modes you can see why a focus on modal shift is vital. Coaches and buses contribute only 3% of domestic transport emissions of carbon dioxide while cars contribute over half.

Therefore, the room for further reductions by getting more people onto coaches and buses is significant. Just a 15% increase in coach passenger journeys each year could save over a quarter of a million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and just six more bus journeys per person each year would have the same impact on carbon emissions as the entire bus fleet transitioning to zero emissions.

As we exit the pandemic there is an opportunity to modify travel patterns and create sustainable travel behaviours but there must be measures in place that will ultimately result in passenger growth.

Before the pandemic, 25% of car users said they would consider switching to buses if they were more reliable. We need priority measures in place that keep buses out of traffic so people can be confident their bus will get them where they need to be, on time.

Coaches often face poor access to visitor attractions and a lack of suitable coach facilities for passengers and drivers. This can lead to increased car use, and government has a role to play in encouraging venues to provide adequate access and facilities for coaches.

During the lockdown, messaging from government was to avoid public transport. Without action to reverse this damaging narrative, it could have a lasting impact on people’s perception of public transport, including coaches, as unsafe. Government now has a role to play using positive messaging that encourages people to get back on board, showcasing coach and bus as safe, convenient travel options.

The need to address the climate emergency has risen to the forefront of political consciousness. We’re fortunate to work in a sector which can help. Investment in zero-emission vehicles will be necessary but not sufficient to achieve the government’s ambitious targets.

Our greatest contribution should be in helping people to choose to shift a few of their journeys from car to coach or bus.