A tale of two cities: Exeter and London fight to curb car use

Schemes to reduce car use seem to be meeting with different levels of success, but are they?

by Tony Farrelly   February 18, 2009  

Cycle lane

Reports on two schemes in different parts of the country aimed at getting people out of their cars and on to bikes suggest that they are having very different levels of success.

A study of commuting habits 6,500 people in Exeter has found that car use has declined by only one per cent since Devon County Council and Sustrans jointly launched their TravelSmart scheme in the city.

Nine per cent of the city's commuting journeys are by bicycle, 12 per cent walk, 12 per cent car share and 12 per cent use public transport – a figure which hasn't changed during the first year of the TravelSmart scheme. However, the scheme's defenders point out that it is not simply targetting commuter travel but car use as a whole in Exeter… and it's only been going for 12 months.

Meanwhile 170 miles to the east in the London Borough of Sutton Transport for London has hailed the success of the second year of its three year Smarter Travel scheme in increasing cycle usage by 50 per cent other notable figures from the Sutton scheme include:

  • A 17 per cent fall in reported cycle theft in the borough since the start of the programme, thanks to the introduction of around 200 new secure cycle parking spaces across Sutton; proactive targeting of cycle theft hotspots by the police; and more than 400 free bike security marking kits handed out under the Smarter Travel scheme
  • A 7.2 per cent increase in the number of people travelling by bus in Sutton in year two; the number of people using buses has gone up by 13 per cent since the start of the programme
  • Every school in Sutton is now actively participating in the Smarter Travel initiative and has an approved travel plan. Sutton is the first London borough to achieve this feat, two years ahead of government targets, and as a result, fewer parents are driving their children to school
  • Every major Sutton employer is also participating in the scheme, involving more than 13,000 employees

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: 'The fact that this initiative has led so many people in Sutton to take to two wheels is great news for the environment and for the wellbeing of people in the borough.

'At the moment cycling represents just one per cent of journeys in London, so I hope that the experience of Sutton will help to encourage more people to get cycling - thereby reducing pollution and helping to tackle congestion.'

Sutton's Travel Smarter project received £5m of funding from TFL and is a partnership between it the local council, local businesses and the wider community. As the project moves into its third year Sutton Council is pressing ahead with plans for major infrastructure improvements to further boost walking, cycling and public transport use within the borough.

At first site the Exeter figures do not look encouraging and judging by many of the comments on the story about the study on the ThisisExeter website the council and their partners will have their work cut out in persuading people out of their cars and on to public transport for the purely practical reason that the service offered by the bus operator, Stagecoach, is viewed as being too expensive and too unreliable.

Some of the commenters say that if Exeter's level of public transport were on a par with that on offer in London in terms of price, reliability and comprehensiveness they would be tempted to get out of their cars – a telling pointer to the big advantage of having such a scheme backed by the organisation the provides all the local public transport as is the case with TFL's involvment with the Sutton project.

On the brighter side according to earlier data gathered by the council and Sustrans cycling has increaseed by 25 per cent in Exeter over the last three years and 18km of new or improved cycle lanes have been built.

Exeter's TravelSmart scheme received £850,000 of funding £500,000 of which came from the Big Lottery Fund, £335,000 from Devon County Council, and £15,000 from Exeter City Council commenting on progress so far Gill Harrison of Sustrans pointed out that the scheme was only in its first year:

"The Travelsmart work in Exeter follows a tried and tested formula and many successful projects across the country in providing information and encouragement to help people walk, cycle and use public transport more. Work began in spring last year and the final evaluation results are not due until next spring.

“The most significant stage of the project is yet to begin and so it is too early to speculate on results. However, our baseline research, which shows how many car trips could potentially be switched, is very encouraging, showing us that the majority of local car journeys could be made on foot, by bike or on public transport. And our experience of working in other towns and cities has consistently shown reductions in the proportion of trips made by car in the range 10-14%.

“TravelSmart also covers all car journeys, not just commuter trips (which are generally less flexible). The greatest proportion of car journeys in Exeter are made for leisure reasons so giving a real potential to reducecar travel in the city."

TFL's Background facts and figures on the Travel Smarter Project

A copy of the Smarter Travel Sutton year two results, covering the period September 2007 to September 2008, is available on http://www.smartertravelsutton.org.uk/

Across London, schools that have implemented school travel plans have seen an average six per cent reduction in the share of journeys to school made by car

Work places that have implemented work place travel plans have recorded an average 13 per cent reduction in the share of commuter journeys by car and a 17 per cent increase in public transport use. 

If all the organisations involved in the work place travel plan programme achieved a similar level of reduced car trips this would mean by 2010/11:
There are 8.8m fewer commuter car trips each year on London's roads
There are 86m fewer car kms travelled each year
There are 14,623 tonnes of CO2 saved per annum

 

5 user comments

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Don't take what you read in the local press at face value.
The figures reported in the Exeter paper are, to say the least, 'cherry-picked'. Their reporters have little or no understanding of the information in the survey and have picked out a stat that appears to tell the story that suits them. I'm hoping that one of my former colleagues (the chaps who actually carried out the Travel Tally across Exeter) will be along shortly to give a bit more detail. Suffice it to say that although the 'usual method of travel' has only shifted by 1%, this does not tell the full story by a long way.

As for the comments on the Express & Echo website, well yes, people are glued to their cars and local transport round here is not well regarded. It's unreliable and very expensive (unless you're a pensioner) but that's what happens when you give a company like Stagecoach an effective monopoly. The comments also bear out a new cliche, that people care passionately about the environment, so long as they don't have to change anything about their habits or lifestyle. There have also been any number of letters in the rag arguing that the terrible traffic problems we have here are entirely due to the council's traffic planners and their infernal traffic lights. Too many cars on the road? No no, not us guv, it's all the council's fault...

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posted by Chuffy [183 posts]
18th February 2009 - 22:09

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Yes, that was very much the impression I got from the local paper's report too. I should have put 'appears' to suggest - when the story moves of the lead spot you'll see from the strapline that we certainly don't take their report at face value. 

As we reported Sustrans point out that the project is not focused on commuting traffic, but all traffic and it is still in its early stages. One thing I would say though is that trying to persuade people to use public transport if it is crap is a loosing battle, if Stagecoach has a near monopoly of public transport - who gave it to them, surely that is in the gift of the council - maybe the council should bit the bullet and put some money into taking control of public transport back. That is the massive advantage enjoyed by politicians in London when tackling these issues - they have control of the transport system. 

In fact it is the organisation charged with managing that system, TFL, which is taking the lead in London in the campaign to get more people walking, cycling, and using public transport. How likely is it that a private company like Stagecoach would do the same… not very.

Instead of spending money putting adverts on buses to persuade people to use them instead of cars it would be far better for councils to spend the money actually buying buses and cutting fares that might have a greater effect in reducing traffic.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
18th February 2009 - 22:33

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tony_farrelly wrote:

Yes, that was very much the impression I got from the local paper's report too. I should have put 'appears' to suggest - when the story moves of the lead spot you'll see from the strapline that we certainly don't take their report at face value.


Heh, I should have deployed the 'I know that you know this' smiley. I'd never dare to suggest that such an experienced man of the press as yourself was naive about such things! Wink

Quote:
Instead of spending money putting adverts on buses to persuade people to use them instead of cars it would be far better for councils to spend the money actually buying buses and cutting fares that might have a greater effect in reducing traffic.


I think there's a deal of truth in that. London will always have a massive advantage in that it actually has a full set of public transport infrastructure and full political control over it. Smaller cities like Exeter simply don't have that luxury. I think that the only real solution lies in either local authorities creating their own local transport companies (which would never happen, it would cost too much and be too much of a risk politically) or a massive shift in favour of a nationalised and heavily subsidised public transport system. The current pensioner bus pass system could be the model, but even that is problematic. The current funding model has given Exeter City Council a massive financial shafting because of it's location as a travel hub. The council who hosts the start of a journey picks up the tab, hence if someone travels across the county via Exeter, Exeter picks up the tab for two journeys. The districts where the overall journey begins and ends each pick up the tab for one journey each.

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posted by Chuffy [183 posts]
19th February 2009 - 0:05

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Which car transport companies hire regular people to drive cars across the country?
car transport offers

posted by marven [1 posts]
30th June 2010 - 6:36

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Chuffy wrote:
people are glued to their cars and local transport round here is not well regarded. It's unreliable and very expensive (unless you're a pensioner) but that's what happens when you give a company like Stagecoach an effective monopoly.

Same story in Shrewsbury with Arriva. Compay management couldn't give a fig for the opinions of passengers or even councillors (stated in recent local public meetings). Car drivers laughably complain about parking fees and lack of spaces in the town centre yet the cost is less than a bus fare from the outskirts (P&R excepted).

The council itself doesn't help, putting its efforts into trying to build yet another bypass around Shrewsbury (est. cost £102 million) instead of tackling the congestion more creatively. It's because they are blinkered and only want to think like car drivers - convenience for the car user is paramount.

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posted by Simon E [1906 posts]
30th June 2010 - 12:50

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