Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Association for Commuter Transport (ACT) (IT 157)



  1.1 The Association for Commuter Transport (ACT) welcomes this opportunity from the Environment, Transport and the Regional Affairs Committee to provide an input into its inquiry into the Integrated Transport White Paper. ACT was formed in September 1997 and is dedicated to the promotion of sustainable transport, improved air quality and reduced car dependency through the encouragement of commuter travel planning. It comprises organisations and individuals who share a commitment to developing modern, effective transportation systems that deliver accessibility to as wide a cross section of the population as possible. Appendix A lists all the corporate members of ACT as at 1 November 1998.

  1.2 Commuter plans were initially pioneered in the USA, which has had its own very successful equivalent of ACT for some time, and now has over 9,000 members. In 1996 Nottinghamshire County Council launched the UK's first Commuter Plan, called STEPS, which set a target of a 30 per cent reduction in drive-alone journeys by staff by April 1999. Nottinghamshire soon became a pioneer in this area, with other local employers such as the Boots Company and Nottingham University also developing commuter plans. It was from this early momentum that ACT in the UK was formed, and has seen many more organisations across Britain investigate the possibility of their own commuter plan.

  1.3 A commuter plan can be defined as a set of mechanisms, initiatives, and targets by which an organisation aims to encourage employees to use alternatives to driving alone. It may contain a combination of key elements to be successful such as furthering the concept of car sharing, promoting better use of public transport, encouraging walking and cycling, and supporting alternative work practices which reduce the need to travel. The advantages of commuter plans are not only environmental, they can also improve the profitability of organisations and the morale of the staff they employ.


  2.1 Whilst commuter planning is becoming more popular, especially within local authorities, hospitals, and large businesses, there remain a number of barriers which prevent their wider success. At a national level, many of these barriers stem from the fact that present UK transport funding is still heavily weighted towards measures aimed at private transport, often making sustainable transport alternatives seem like less attractive options. This balance needs to be redressed. In particular, more public money derived from private transport sources (such as car parking fees, fuel duty and road tax) needs to be steered towards public transport, cycling, walking and other measures to discourage car dependency.

  2.2 To further ensure that alternative modes are a realistic alternative to the private car, they must be fully co-ordinated. Especial emphasis must be given to developing interchanges at all levels, from rural bus stops through to city centre rail stations. Passenger convenience must be maximised, with effective passenger information and seamless transfers between modes. This can be achieved with strategic land use planning, ensuring that alternative transport routes are serious competitors to the convenience of the car. Whilst modern, clean, comfortable, friendly and accessible transport services are important, they must achieve the commuter's top objective of reliability.

  2.3 The current tax regime also reflects the imbalance in UK transport funding. For example, the tax incentives enjoyed by company car drivers are particularly favourable. To address this the taxing of non residential car parks and introduction of national standards for public car parking fees must be given further consideration, and any charges must be paid by the individual to act as a real disincentive. In addition, we also need tax breaks for employees receiving benefits offered as part of a company commuter plan, such as cyclist's allowances and subsidised bus passes.

  2.4 Further barriers to commuter plans arise from resource issues within organisations, especially smaller companies. Internal infrastructure, such as cyclist shower rooms, secure and well lit pedestrian routes, or improving IT resources to reduce the need to travel, are perceived as not adding to the bottom line. Similarly, staffing resources in conducting staff travel surveys, setting up car sharing registers, and providing an information point for employees are perceived in a similar way. Not only is this not necessarily true, it should also be considered alongside the actual cost of providing and maintaining private parking. It is estimated that, excluding land costs, construction of one level car park space costs between £1,000 and £2,000. One possible solution to these problems is to encourage greater co-operation between organisations in similar geographic areas, especially business parks and town centres.

  2.5 Not all barriers to commuter plans relate to economic measures. There are also significant cultural and social barriers. These include the loss of flexibility and status in not driving a car, personal safety and security issues, and the unpleasantness of bad weather when walking or cycling. These difficulties may well be the hardest and longest to address in changing the hearts and minds of the commuting public. Greater consideration, however, needs to be given to the social and cultural benefits of commuter plans through awareness campaigns. These include the social aspects of travelling with colleagues, the reduced stress from less driving and congestion, the fitness benefits of cycling and walking, and the time saved in accessing employment centres without the need to park.


  3.1 There are a number of publications further elaborating on commuter planning in the UK. Two particularly good references are "Changing Journeys to Work: An Employers Guide to Green Commuter Plans" produced by Transport 2000 and "Guide to Green Transport Plans: Advice for Government Departments" produced by DETR. Further information can also be gained from ACT, Glenthorne House, Hammersmith Grove, London W6 OLG (Tel: 0181 741 1516, Fax: 0171 741 5993).

November 1998

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