Carrots and Sticks
23 August 2021

Carrots and Sticks

Mitigating climate change around the world requires collaboration from all countries to be effective.

C02 emissions result in profit for some governments and the option to pollute rather than ‘clean up’ is often the cheaper and easiest option. Game theory may play a part in understanding how to tackle this enormous behavioural challenge. If you see the earth’s resources as a pie in equal parts with every country taking their piece; if a handful of countries take too much, then the system collapses. How do you police this system throughout different countries with different laws and attitudes? I spoke to Mike Scott and Alison Pickett about how we can make incremental adjustments to behaviour within the UK and Ireland.

COVID-19 has temporarily led to fewer car trips, but road user charges could still be a valid method for reducing traffic, despite its unpopularity. In April 2021, Baroness Brown suggested that “public attitudes have changed on this issue and that road user charging would be a fair way to handle motoring taxation after the phasing out of diesel and petrol vehicles”. SYSTRA’s Alison Pickett considers that road charging should be on a case by case basis as you don’t want to ‘punish’ people for using cars when it may be their only viable form of transport. As well as charging, there should be increased provision of viable active travel options; particularly within rural areas. Mike Scott (SYSTRA) states that breaking the cycle of public transport decline in these areas is hard; “fewer people want to use the buses (especially post-COVID). So, there’s less fares and money around. And inevitably, the response to that is to reduce the service, thereby losing more passengers, thereby losing more money.” Public transport should be considered as a public service, but there are far more business decisions behind the cancelling of regular services.

Integrated transport may provide a practical short-term solution. Integrated transport involves the combining of different modes of transport to maximise ease and efficiency for the user in terms of time, cost, comfort, safety, accessibility, and convenience. To be successful, transport interchanges need to be made seamless; ensuring that park and ride facilities, stations, cycleways, inner city bus stations all work in collaboration. Can this infrastructure be implemented throughout Ireland and the UK successfully? Alison believes that it would need to be with the leadership and backing of local councils and stakeholders; but that implementation can prove controversial as people have objected to measure such as the implementation of measures to provide infrastructure such as bus priority and segregated cycle lanes, particularly if it impacts on the availability of car parking/storage. Mike states that transport systems are “too fragmented because of their management over the last 40 years. However, the UK government has just issued a new National Bus Strategy which is advocating more ‘partnership working’ and more integration between travel modes. However, he added that the costs of integrated travel tickets can put people off: “one of the real key constraints is the availability of affordable and cheap and simple pricing and ticketing”. As well as cost, the user needs to know that they can reach their destination within their time boundaries, that the journey will be safe, comfortable, and convenient, having all information accessible to them. Buses and trains also need to be marketed as desirable forms of transport to encourage their use.

The use of electric vehicles is one contributing factor to achieving net zero carbon in transport. In the UK, infrastructure for electric vehicles is starting to be put in place, but not to its fullest capacity. One way around this could be to place electric charging within people’s homes if they want one. This is not always practical or possible; 62% of households in the UK don’t have access to a driveway where an electric vehicle charger could be installed. Mike states “there’s a financial practicality barrier there. You could attach two chargers to every street lamp in the country costing a lot of money and that would probably satisfy some of the demand. But would you gain recompense for that as a council?”. Alison suggests that in the future (and pending legislation), electric scooters might be another alternative within urban areas, particularly for “short trips and to provide that first mile/last mile connectivity.” She concludes that “one of the biggest benefits of this mode is social inclusion and providing flexible access to jobs and opportunities to people who can’t afford cars.”

How do you create behavioural change within a populace away from the freedom of car use and achieve the carrots and sticks approach? Mike believes that “public transport and active travel is never going to offer the same level of simplicity as a car, but it can move towards that level of simplicity”. Alison believes that a ‘nudge’ approach is appropriate, like starting a diet: “Driving is a habit and habits are hard to break. Moving house or starting a new job is a key life change for some people, where there is an opportunity to break that habit and consider other options such as using public transport to travel to that new job. The setup needs to be uncomplicated, “If the bus is delayed, there might be an alert; whether it’s on your phone or at the bus stop itself. Ticketing payment needs to be right, so it’s not just for people who use public transport all the time; it needs to be easy to understand and seen as good value for money. If you’re using a train station; how good is that integration with cycling; are there cycle shelters there and are they secure? What are the cycle routes like? All of these things need to be taken into consideration.”

The biggest obstacle is that what is best and easiest for the individual isn’t always best for the group. Making things simpler seems to be the key to making small changes to people’s ability to give up the freedoms they enjoyed in the past to play a greater part in making positive steps towards zero carbon. More drastic changes need to be made however; The CCC report Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk, warned of heatwaves, extreme rainfall and greater flood risk across most of the UK. This also requires a combined, universal effort to make inroads into positive change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stated in this article that “The choices societies make now will determine whether our species thrives or simply survives as the 21st century unfolds. We need transformational change operating on processes and behaviours at all levels: individual, communities, business, institutions and governments,” added the IPCC.

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