By Richard Harris

Across most European cities, air pollution is an important area of policymaking, and transport is being clearly targeted. We have seen the green/amber/red sticker system introduced across Germany for example, and sterner penalties will soon be rolled-out across London.

But, are we missing something by concentrating on fines, rather than how to actually improve the transport experience and prioritise better options?

When we asked city commuters in Europe to tell us their primary reasons for choosing a transport option, we found that whilst they do consider the cost of travel and environmental friendliness in choosing how to get around, two others overshadowed these factors: convenience and speed.

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Why the car is still king

The extent to which convenience and speed matter is striking. This phenomenon is consistent across all modes of transportation, and it helps explain why cars are still one of the most popular travel options in Europe – even though very few people think of them as cost-efficient or eco-friendly.

95 per cent of commuters choose the car as their means of transport due to its convenience.

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It’s clear that whatever environmental solutions we are able to provide, they won’t be readily accepted across any city unless they can prove themselves to address demands for convenience and speed.

Of course, public transport can be fast, convenient and green. But to get there, more needs to be done to understand the journeys people take, and why, so that city planners can enable them to make better, more sustainable choices.

What does all this tell us? For anyone looking to encourage take-up of a greener mode of transport in their city, that mode must be at least as quick and convenient as the car or it will be a non-starter. The key to providing this is to enable choice.

Greater choice, greener choice?

What’s important to remember is that people have different transport needs at different times. Some days, only the car will do. Other days, provided investment has been made to provide more frequent services or better connections, the metro or bus may be equally or more viable. If city planners are able to capture and present accurate, up-to-the-minute data about city transport modes, they can enable this choice and create a better, greener experience.

Richard Harris

“The extent to which convenience and speed matter is striking … it helps explain why cars are still one of the most popular travel options in Europe.” – Richard Harris, solutions director for Xerox International Transportation and Government Group

Communication and data accuracy is crucial, and that depends on two things: Good ongoing data capture from the huge amount of touch points across the city (ticket barriers, traffic lights, road sensors and parking metres to name a few), and providing that insight directly to the consumer. This can be done through, for instance, a mobility planning app that can show the travel options, timing, cost, and other information, which will empower people to travel in much smarter ways, depending on their individual needs for any given journey.

If cities increase their use of data analytics, they will not only pinpoint travel issues in real-time, but also help identify new patterns of travel behaviour that can accelerate new, more energy-efficient services.

Imagine being able to review and adjust the price of the metro, or your city’s parking spaces, based on predicted  congestion or anticipated  usage that day, or  levels of air quality. Imagine making different offers to different people on different days. Coupled with a well-funded, increased capacity public transport network, city planners would quickly be able to inform users and diversify transport choices in such a way that ensures speed, convenience, and reduced carbon emissions.

This is the promise of city-wide data capture and analysis and this is how we can level the playing field with the car, and build a better transport experience for commuters, make our cities more liveable and achieve environmental policy objectives.