LEADING THE WAY IN GREENER TRANSPORT
SYSTRA Business Director CHRIS POWNALL explains how the company is advising clients on changes in travel patterns
In June 2019, the UK became the world’s first major economy to pass a net zero emissions target into law.
By committing the UK to eliminating its contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the legislation represented a natural progression from a motion passed by MPs just weeks earlier that declared an environmental and climate ‘emergency’.
Fast forward 18 months and we find ourselves in the grip of an additional emergency created by the Coronavirus public health crisis.
But far from threatening efforts to help the nation achieve its ambitious net zero target, our recovery from the pandemic instead provides an unexpected opportunity to decarbonise even more rapidly.
The Government’s renewed commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions was summed up by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on October 6, when he said: “Now, as we build back better, we must build back greener.”
As the highest carbon dioxide-emitting sector in the country, the transport industry is in pole position to help turn this ambition into reality. But a strong return of road traffic to near-normal levels since the start of the pandemic in March makes it more important than ever that rail rises to this challenge.
Not only does it need to become an even cleaner and greener mode of transport than it already is, it must also urgently attract passengers back to the network and away from more polluting modes of transport.
To help understand the implications of Coronavirus on public transport, and on the prevailing attitudes to work and travel, SYSTRA carried out two rounds of extensive research earlier this year.
The most recent survey conducted in June indicated that 39% of pre-pandemic public transport users will make fewer trips than before, once all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
This figure increases to 59% of those who regularly commuted by rail or bus, and 62% of those surveyed in London.
Encouragingly, the survey also showed that 68% of respondents would feel safer using public transport through the use of safety measures such as the strict enforcement of social distancing and deep cleaning of stations and vehicles.
SYSTRA Business Director Chris Pownall explains: “In each survey we talked to about 1,500 people across different settings, roles, jobs and contexts around the country. The second survey in June was particularly interesting, as we focused on the long-term impacts of the pandemic on how people work.
“One of the key things for the rail sector is the move we were already seeing towards people travelling to offices on fewer days of the week. 62% of office workers told us they usually commuted five days a week before the pandemic, but only 26% thought they were likely to go back to the same pattern once a vaccine is available.
“The survey was therefore important to not only understand the impact of Coronavirus on travel by public transport, but also around some of the actions that people would like to see in order to feel more reassured and to return to using rail, as a lot of us begin to work more flexibly.”
To help train operating companies (TOCs) more effectively respond to the survey results and the changing demand for rail travel, SYSTRA has employed advanced Scenario Planning techniques to help its clients map out different potential versions of the future.
Scenario Planning creates a range of different potential versions of the future. SYSTRA can model what passenger demand and usage of the transport network will look like under these difference scenarios, enabling operators and policymakers to make intelligent planning decisions accordingly.
Pownall adds: “Clearly there is going to be a big change in the way people behave around public transport, and one of the big things we’ve been doing over the years is forecasting passenger demand. It’s going to be difficult to predict for the next few years, but one of the approaches we are taking to reduce that uncertainty is to look at different scenarios that might result from the pandemic.
“With one TOC we’ve recently done a scenario planning exercise looking at four different versions of the future, where you have a weak or strong return to travel, and then what sort of strategies a TOC might need to optimise their business under those sorts of circumstances.
“In a high car-usage scenario, you might need to look at car parking and developing easier-to-access railheads, because thinking about how people get to the station might be key to keeping up rail’s share of the market in
To help support TOCs respond to changes in demand, SYSTRA has also been using its modelling skills to develop flexi-season ticket products that are attractive and cost-effective to passengers while also protecting product yield for operators.
A large number of TOCs have now developed and brought more flexible ticketing products to market, while the Government is expected to consider more wholesale reform to fares and ticketing in the near future.
SYSTRA has also worked with transport providers, including HS2 Ltd, to develop Station Travel Plans that look ahead to future demand and further enhance rail’s standing as a sustainable mode of transport.
“If people are going to choose rail, then the way they get to the station needs to be greener. We therefore produce Station Travel Plans for TOCs that encourage walking and cycling, rather than the car,” adds Pownall.
“It’s about looking at facilities at stations and locking in good behaviours for getting to existing stations or ones that haven’t been built yet, like we’ve done with HS2.
“For HS2, you’re also thinking about stations as destinations. You look at retail, the station’s purpose and sense of place, and making it somewhere that people want to be, and then how it links with local transport so that people use these stations in a green way.
“King’s Cross is very much marketed as a destination station, and it’s about trying to capture that concept elsewhere on HS2.”
As well as how we travel to and use stations, SYSTRA also recognises that the way we buy mobility services is changing.
The company is at the forefront of a number of trial schemes for the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) concept, whereby transport operators and mobility providers offer integrated packages of information and services.
As a result of its real-world experience, SYSTRA is currently advising a range of clients on the economic and practical issues of such arrangements.
Pownall explains: “We are helping clients to work out the feasibility of MaaS schemes and solve some of the practical problems around sharing information and payment means within a single platform on an internetconnected device.
“It goes beyond rail, as you want demandresponsive transport to get you to the station. And if you can get that all joined up, then you have a really attractive offer to deter people from driving the car.”