In the UK cars are responsible for 58% of domestic transport carbon emissions. Buses have a pivotal role to play in reducing carbon emissions through modal shift. Research for Greener Journeys estimates that the best-used bus services in urban centres are reducing carbon emissions from road transport by as much as 75%.

Buses are also key to reducing congestion, which is a major constraint on economic activity. A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that British business will lose £300bn to gridlock over the next 16 years.

Earlier this month, Greener Journeys published a toolkit designed to help bus operators and local authorities encourage modal shift from car to bus. The toolkit applies insights from behavioural economics and recommends a number of “switch tactics” to shake car drivers out of their well-worn routines. These include targeting drivers when they are most likely to be frustrated with driving – such as when trying to find a parking space, sitting in traffic or paying for petrol – and encouraging them to try using the bus with a free ticket.

Car use is extremely habitual, and persuading people to break the car habit is not an easy task. Orthodox approaches to changing travel behaviour focus on time and cost, and factors such as convenience, reliability and comfort. Those methods remain essential, but the type of switch tactics outlined in the toolkit can be an effective means of enhancing and extending more traditional ways of changing behaviour.

There is no magic remedy, but in the short term modal switch from car to bus offers one immediate and low cost way of reducing carbon emissions. Greener Journeys estimates that if everyone switched just one car journey a month to bus or coach instead, there would be one billion fewer car journeys on our roads and a saving of two million tonnes of CO2 every year.

If we are to achieve an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 there is much still to do. The Committee on Climate Change has warned that the UK is not currently on track to meet its third and fourth carbon budgets. It has stressed in particular the imperative that the Government sets a decarbonisation target for 2030.

Engaging car drivers in modal shift campaigns provides a benefit beyond the immediate reduction of carbon emissions from transport. Behaviour change campaigns are a real and tangible way to engage the general public on the need to reduce emissions. Such campaigns can help rally the kind of grassroots support needed to send a clear signal to the Government, political parties and policymakers that climate change must be treated as an urgent priority.

Reference: Transport Times, November Issue 2014

The pivotal role buses play in stimulating the local economy will be discussed at the 2015 UK Bus Summit being held on 12th February in London - See more at: