Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by BT


  1.  BT is pleased to have this opportunity to submit comments to the Committee's Inquiry into Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport. The press release announcing the Inquiry suggests a number of topics on which the Committee is seeking views, mostly relating to the performance of the DfT in relation to carbon reduction targets. Rather than responding directly to the issues mentioned by the Committee, this input looks at some ways in which communications technology can be used to avoid unnecessary journeys and, thus, help reduce transport-related carbon emissions.


  2.  The UK has the worst traffic congestion in Europe and it is growing. Moreover, traffic emissions are a major contributory factor to climate change—the RAC estimates road transport makes up around 21% of total man-made CO2 in the UK.

  3.  According to the RAC, the cost of traffic congestion could double in the next decade if the problem is not addressed and others have argued that the UK transport crisis is deterring investors. The CBI has estimated that congestion is costing employers £20 billion per annum and projected that £300 billion needs to be invested over the next ten years in the UK transport system.


  4.  While additional investment is undoubtedly necessary, there is a consensus that no conceivable level of construction would be able to satisfy potential demand for road space.

  5.  Technology offers a way ahead. Technology underpins the London congestion charge and global positioning satellites will be a fundamental part of road charging. GPS technology already allows transport companies to track and more efficiently deploy their fleets. Radio-frequency-identity-disks (RFIDs) will enable even smarter distribution. For cars, it is possible to envisage a future when most have GPS technology linked to real-time traffic management systems that can dynamically alter routes and also direct drivers to available parking spaces.

  6.  The UK collectively travels over 300 billion miles every year. Four-fifths of the miles are in cars and taxis and almost three-fifths (59%) of these miles are accounted for by a combination of commuting (25%), business mileage (15%), shopping trips (12%) and personal business (7%). A 10% reduction in these categories would yield a 6% reduction in car and taxi mileage and BT believes that this is a realistic target to substitute with communications technology. Achieving this target would represent a saving equivalent to more than 14.5 billion miles per year, equal to about three years growth in car and taxi traffic at current rates.

  7.  A quarter of miles driven are commuting miles. Achieving a 10% reduction in this area will require a commitment by employers to support and encourage appropriate flexible and remote working. Government statistics show that in Spring 2005, around 2.4 million people in the UK (8% of the workforce) were teleworkers, using a telephone and computer to carry out their work, double the rate in 1997. However, this is still less than half the level achieved in countries like Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands and, indeed, by BT itself. Research carried out by NOP in 2003 found that among internet users who travel to work every weekday, 23% would like to have the option of working from home but that the proportion of employers prepared to allow them to do so was lower, at 13%. BT estimates that commuting mileage could be reduced by 10% if those people who do not currently work from home but would like to were permitted to do so.

  8.  Business mileage accounts for 15% of the total and BT also believes that 10% of this could be eliminated by conferencing (audio, video and web). At the moment, less than 5% of the 1.9 million businesses in the UK actively purchase phone conferencing for use across their businesses as a regular alternative to travelling. Yet the savings are demonstrable: BT saved £129 million and avoided 47,000 tonnes of CO2 through such activity last year, for example. We believe Government departments should be setting an example here, yet with 20% of the UK's workforce, revenues from this area are very small—in the order of 5% of total revenues from conferencing.

  9.  Turning to shopping, which accounts for 12% of car and taxi mileage, the projected growth of e-commerce shows the potential to deliver a 10% reduction in this area. NOP research shows that in December 2004, 24.0 million adults used the internet and 12.7 million (53%) of them made a personal purchase. An earlier study showed that on average, an online purchase saved a journey of 9.1 miles by car, 7.1 after the impact of substitutional journeys ie journeys made in place of trips saved. Of course some of these savings are offset by extra home deliveries but a lot of these vans would be rolling anyway. Moreover, the internet has enabled some products like music, video, news and catalogues to be distributed digitally, thereby eliminating the need for some physical distribution altogether.

  10.  Internet shopping accounts for around 10% of retail sales and it is bound to increase. More than half (56%) of online shoppers expect to increases their purchases this year and just 7% of them expect to buy less. Satisfaction with online shopping is extremely high, indicating that companies providing e-commerce services are coping well with the increased volumes.

  11.  It is plausible to assume that broadband facilitated travel substitution could reduce car usage for personal business (7% of car mileage) by 10%. Many other car trips could also be impacted by activities such as online banking, distance learning, telemedicine, video-telephony and video-on-demand.

  12.  There is some debate as to the extent to which travel substitution reduces congestion. There is some evidence that there are compensatory journeys generated and that to an extent it shifts the problem in time rather than solving it. However, time shifting alone is a great help in keeping congestion below a critical level, beyond which delays increase disproportionately.


  13.  The Office of Science and Technology's Foresight Project: Intelligent Infrastructure Futures (IIF) has provided a challenging vision on how we might move goods and people in the future. Information and communication technology has an important role to play in this future vision and so it is essential that the Government is coherent and co-ordinated in its follow-up work. This is particularly important given the long term nature of transport and planning policies. It is also essential that stakeholders are involved fully in the next steps phase of the IIF project.

  14.  It appears that many of DfT's polices are "downstream" or "end of pipe" solutions, for example, the use of ICT to make existing transport systems more efficient. This is important but more attention should be given to "upstream" solutions, such as reducing the need to travel through increased take up of teleworking. Upstream solutions are not within the gift of DfT to deliver and so it is essential that the Government joins up policymaking in a co-ordinated way across all departments, regions and local authorities.

  15.  Behavioural change is essential to reduce congestion, dependence on the car, limit the production of carbon dioxide, conserve energy, etc. One way to promote behavioural change is to make information about the real cost of activities available to people at the point of use and to provide viable alternatives to historic behaviour. We need to make more use of ICT to bring together, process and distribute the information required to help people manage their consumption and impact on the environment.


  16.  The congestion problem across the UK is real and getting worse. Road building and other traffic management measures alone will not redress the balance, requiring all of us to examine alternative strategies. Setting realistic targets for what can be achieved, together with a commitment to addressing the issue by all and exploiting available technology, could pay real long term dividends. Tackling congestion by encouraging substitution for travel would have the major benefit of reducing carbon emissions.

  17.  The Government needs to lead by example and view communications as a complimentary network to traditional transport systems. A holistic integrated approach that leverages both the innovative opportunities of technology and the motivation of users is essential.

  18.  Green travel policies should work in practice, not just be a tick in the box on a department or council's CSR strategy statement. One of the most difficult areas to tackle may well be the practice of paying employees for driving their private cars. This generates literally millions of miles of travel. High profile use of video conferencing and targets for teleworking would send the right signals to other economic sectors.

  19.  Achieving a 10% reduction in commuting, business, shopping and personal business would deliver an overall saving of 6% in car and taxi mileage undertaken, a significant contribution towards alleviating both congestion and carbon emissions.

March 2006

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