How are we getting to Heathrow? Plus, the first 'virtual' bus plan!?

Everyday hundreds of thousands of passengers and staff travel to and from Heathrow. Giving those people more sustainable travel choices is an interesting task. I am chair of the Heathrow Area Transport Forum (HATF). It has been a great journey understanding more about the surface transport challenges in and around the airport. HATF's role is to challenge and support Heathrow in the development of those travel choices. See here for more about HATF and its work: Heathrow Area Transport Forum - Heathrow Area Transport Forum (

The overall picture is positive. The Elizabeth line has been a game changer. The new line has both offered far more people an easier journey to and from the airport plus taken some passengers from existing services. More than 44% of passengers now use public transport. TfL rail, Heathrow Express and the Elizabeth Line account for some 21% of the total with the Underground still carrying around 11%. Public buses are used by 3% and coach 9%.

The target set out in the airport's surface access strategy is to achieve a public transport mode share of 45% by 2026. So, the airport is well on the way to meeting and maintaining that target.

Car based access remains the main transport mode taking about 52% of the overall share. Private hire and taxis account for about 29% and private cars 23% respectively. Given that public transport options vary hugely depending on if you are coming in from London or the home counties, these figures are perhaps not surprising.

Staff (over 70,000 of them – it's the largest single employment site in the country allegedly) present quite a different challenge to passengers. Shift patterns, the need to travel within the huge airport campus to different sites, and quality of public transport where people actually live means car is often the default option. While the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone, which covers Heathrow, has altered the costs for some, car still represents the best perceived choice for many.

More data is needed to understand how staff travel to and from the airport at the moment. So, Heathrow, with HATF's support and input, has commissioned a large-scale employee survey which is in field now. The results will help us in mapping current travel patterns and what scope there is to get staff travelling differently.

Hopefully this will strengthen the case for further targeted actions including more active travel options – over 15,000 staff live within 5km of the site. Reopening the tunnel access to the central terminal area next year for those on two wheels will be a game changer, and the airport is busy building on this by improving routes across it's campus and with neighbouring authorities.

However, bus clearly could have a bigger role in helping both staff and passengers. As passengers have returned to the flying post-pandemic in great numbers, Heathrow has again been steadily investing in bus services in and around the airport, alongside bus companies and local authorities. Bus passenger numbers are rising, with a 102% increase in patronage on the main routes supported by the airport. See the latest report on the development of the Sustainable Travel Zone for more information:

To drive this mode shift to bus even further, HATF has been supporting the development of a 'virtual' Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP).

This recognises that delivering a first-class passenger proposition is not wholly within the airport's gift. Unlocking more investment from Government, via the local authority led Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) process, would really help underpin future expansion of services, and support much better collaboration and coordination across these multiple parties.

Heathrow sits just inside the edge of the Greater London Authority boundary adjacent to Surrey and the Berkshire. So, TfL have a keen interest. Bus services to the airport traverse numerous local council areas. So, co-ordination is vital. The local authorities close by: Surrey County, Spelthorne, Slough, Windsor & Maidenhead, Buckinghamshire and the London boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow, have been working together with Heathow to develop an overarching "virtual" BSIP that can overcome the challenges and help deliver better outcomes.

Not every bid for extra funding will succeed. However, at least planning in this way ensures a greater chance of the development of an integrated network which could attract more passengers and revenue. Is this 'virtual' BSIP a first?

So, what next? HATF will continue to support and challenge Heathrow to keep up progress on sustainable travel initiatives. We will support the various bus initiatives underway. We will continue to help build consensus around the Southern Rail Access project – a major scheme that, funding allowing, could unlock huge rail-based travel options from Waterloo and the Southwest of the airport. We will continue to focus on supporting the efforts of local authorities, Heathrow and others (such as the police and British Parking Association) to clamp down on private hire parking and rogue meet and greet parking companies and the anti-social behaviour in neighbouring communities that can ensue.

It would be good to see some of you face to face soon. The 23rd May Transport Times conference, Transport After the General Election, is being held at KPMG's London offices. I am chairing one of the sessions.

See you soon – plenty to discuss!