Surface transport to airports Contents

2Passenger preference and modal shift

Passenger needs and preferences

10.Surface transport around airports serves airport users and staff, local commuters, and air passengers. The needs of these different groups should be taken into account when planning surface access and making choices about improvements to existing services and infrastructure.

11.Passenger demand models published by the Airports Commission show that both speed of access and the complexity of journeys to airports affect passenger choice.14 The number of interchanges on a trip to the airport (and associated increased risk of delay) can be an important factor. The Independent Transport Commission quoted research which showed that adding an interchange to a rail service, despite journey times remaining the same, can reduce demand for a service by 40%.15 London Travelwatch noted that the London airports with the highest proportion of public transport use—London City and Stansted—are those that have the largest number of direct services and connections where only one change of service or mode is required. It added that “inconsistency in surface access to airports reduces the efficiencies of the airline and airports sector […] passengers may end up choosing airlines on the basis of airport proximity and ease of access, rather than the offerings of the airlines themselves”.16

12.The West Yorkshire Combined Authority highlighted the fact that outward UK travellers and inbound international travellers have different surface access requirements, with the former tending to be more reliant on car-based travel, and the latter on good public transport.17 The Airport Operators Association explained that business travellers tend to favour speed in their choice of surface transport, whilst leisure travellers tend to favour cost.18 A good illustration of this is the Heathrow Express, for which the passenger profile is 69% business and 31% leisure.19

13.Chris Chalk of engineering and consultancy firm Mott MacDonald stressed the importance of reliability, explaining that “most people travelling are doing so for leisure, so they are unlikely to have a flexible ticket. They need to get that flight. If they do not […] they lose their holiday and everything else”.20 As London Travelwatch explained, “journey time reliability on the road network serving [London] airports is in many cases less than 60%”. It argued that “there is a powerful case for investment in those modes of transport that are most likely to deliver reliable journey times. This points above all to investment in rail, in bus priority on the road network, and in improved interchanges to maximise the catchment area of airports within one easy change of mode”.21

14.Public transport is not always a suitable—or available—option for travel to and from airports. Passengers with large amounts of luggage and those with reduced mobility may still rely on private modes of transport. Moreover, some customers show a preference for using private transport despite it having the greatest relative impact on traffic and congestion, and so on air quality and carbon emissions.

15.The lack of availability of round-the-clock rail connections to airports was cited by several witnesses as being a key barrier to modal shift for passengers and airport staff arriving or departing from an airport early in the morning or late at night. Jacobs Engineering Group argued that government policy should prioritise public transport provision to airports, “with an ultimate objective of reliable 24-hour public transport connections with daytime service frequencies of 10 minutes or less”.22

Effectiveness of policies for modal shift

16.The Aviation Policy Framework endorsed the recommendation in the Labour Government’s 2003 White Paper that airport operators produce Master Plans in which they set out their future aims, including any airport development proposals and surface access initiatives, along with their related local environmental impacts and proposed mitigation measures. These plans should be updated at least every five years, though many date back before 2010. The Department recommends that Airport Surface Access Strategies (ASASs) include an analysis of the existing surface access arrangements and targets for increasing the proportion of journeys made to the airport by public transport, cycling and walking. It suggests that ASASs should contain actions, policies and proposals to deliver on the targets. Although the Government looks at data from airports, it does not currently have a role in monitoring or enforcing the appropriateness or effectiveness of airports’ plans in relation to modal shift.23

17.Evidence from the London Borough of Hounslow suggested that Airport Transport Forums (which deliver ASASs) should have “improved governance, linked to binding targets around modal splits and actual sanctions if these are not met”.24 Jacobs agreed, stating that airports are required to set targets specifically related to public transport mode share, but “very little is included in the Aviation Policy Framework on the appropriateness of those targets or the implications for operators if they are not delivered”.25 Grant Brooker of the architecture and design firm Fosters and Partners pointed out that airports agree service standards in contracts with airlines, but do not have the same service standard contracts with passengers. Mr Brooker suggested this was an area which could be explored further with, for example, airport operators setting service standards for passenger journey times between airport terminals and public transport nodes.26

18.Data from the CAA shows the modes of transport used by arriving and departing passengers in the UK:


Terminating passengers (000’s)

Private %

Public %

Other %











London City

























East Midlands





Leeds Bradford















Source: Mode of transport used at the 2014 survey airports. Source: CAA Passenger Survey Report 2014, tables 7.1 and 7.2

19. As Jacobs’ evidence described, despite long-term downward trends in the use of private vehicles to access airports, there has been a recent increase in private vehicle mode share, notably at Stansted, Gatwick and Luton. However, Jacobs concludes that this is due to “increased car usage in Greater London since 2012 as the economy recovers from recession”, and that “recent growth is related to absolute traffic volumes as a result of high growth rather than a mode shift towards private vehicles”.27 In other parts of the UK, “dispersed regional catchments and relatively high proportions of passengers travelling in off-peak hours are two key drivers explaining the predominance of the private vehicle” for travel to airports.28

20.London Travelwatch explained that “In the London Railway area (that includes five major airports) […] poor passenger experiences are limiting the effectiveness of policies designed to encourage a shift towards using public transport to get to or from airports”.29 ABTA added that, despite several airports offering good rail services to city centres, many lie on busy commuter lines where crowding at early morning peaks coincides with the airport’s peak arrivals of long-haul aircraft,30 and concluded that “crowding on board trains won’t incentivise air passengers to use trains to travel from/to the airport”.31 This point was made by many witnesses to our inquiry, particularly in relation to the Brighton Main Line, although ABTA acknowledged “the difficult task Network Rail faces in striking a balance between the aspirations of the different stakeholders: commuters, air travellers and airport staff alike, and the need to make best use of the available capacity on the rail network and to identify priorities for investment”.32 Dedicated services for airport passengers with no through stops are one way to address these issues but, as they are often priced at a premium, leisure travellers in particular choose other services or modes.

21.Some airports—notably Stansted—have used coach services to increase public transport usage. The airport achieved a public mode share of 49.6% in 2014, approximately 30% of which was attributable to coach services.33 However, as the Stansted Consultative Committee warned “if the bus and coach sector were to carry any substantial percentage of the increased number of passengers forecast to use the airport, then large numbers of additional vehicles would need to operate”, which would have adverse environmental impacts and contribute to congestion on London’s roads,34 notwithstanding the environmental impact of aviation per se.

22.Modal shift may be easier to achieve by targeting airport employees travelling to and from airports as they often account for a high proportion of car journeys being made to airports each day. For example, estimates derived from research conducted by the Independent Transport Commission in 2014 show that Heathrow Airport’s 76,000 staff account for 42.9% of all trips to the airport, with just over 50% of these being recorded as single occupancy car journeys.35 As Jacobs described, surface access catchments for employees also tend to be local, in contrast to the regional catchments for passengers:

“in 2012, 35% of staff at Gatwick Airport lived in Crawley, the local authority within which the airport is located. […] 28% of Heathrow staff in 2013/4 were resident in the London Boroughs of Hillingdon (where the airport is located) and Hounslow (the adjacent borough to the east). An additional example is Manchester Airport, where a staff survey in 2010 indicated that 56% of staff were resident in the three boroughs of Manchester, Stockport and Trafford”.36

23.Jacobs observed that “daily demand for surface transport among staff at airports is also typically more peaked when compared with airport passengers”. At Gatwick Airport, for example, 49% of staff travel to work between 6am and 9am; at Heathrow, the proportion is 29% at the same time of day.37 Private vehicle use is a more significant component of the mode share of airport staff than for passenger mode share:38

C:\Users\mcilvennas\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.Word\figure 1.eps

Staff mode share at major UK airports (various sources: ASASs and published Airports Commission submissions). From Jacobs (STA0083), 3.2.4

24.The West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority observed that modal shift for staff “achieves very high levels of benefit and consideration should be given to policies which can encourage this, including subsidy of early morning services when demand at airports is very high”.39 Grant Brooker of Fosters and Partners agreed, suggesting that mandating operators to cooperate with local transport operators to address employee travel needs was “an obvious and softer target” rather than focusing on airport passenger travelling behaviours.40 The Minister, Robert Goodwill, concurred that daily journeys made by airport staff were “low-hanging fruit” for encouraging modal shift, highlighting the fact that 25% of all journeys to and from Heathrow airport are made by staff.41

25.Heathrow Airport’s success in reducing staff private vehicle mode share to under 60% is down to the introduction of measures such as subsidised public transport routes and ticket costs for staff, along with encouragement of more walking and cycling.42 This is encouraging, but the airport will need to keep up the momentum if it is to grow. Indeed some witnesses, including the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, recommended that “careful monitoring” of staff mode share would be required if permission is given for a third runway and a sixth terminal.43

26.Local authorities have a range of ‘carrots and sticks’ available to them to encourage modal shift.44 One such ‘stick’, which has been used by airports such as Luton, is charging cars for passenger drop-offs and picks-ups. Jacobs’ evidence stressed the “disproportionate impact” of taxi and drop-off journeys on the road network due to the number of empty return vehicle trips generated by these journeys compared to on-site parking activity.45 The Minister recognised charging schemes as one way to “nudge behavioural change”, explaining that these fees can raise revenue for airports whilst encouraging modal shift.46 However, these schemes are often contentious. In January 2016, just prior to the publication of this report, the CAA launched a review into the market structure for surface access, and in particular how competitive conditions for road and forecourt access affect outcomes for consumers. The review set out to provide a better understanding of the market structure for surface access and assess whether transparent information was in place to ensure consumers are aware of the choices available to them for accessing UK airports, along with associated charges (including car parking).47 Prior to the launch of the review, The Times reported that the CAA’s remit would cover “aggressive ‘no-stopping’ policies at airports that have hit motorists with £100 penalties for pausing for a matter of seconds to read signs or pick up relatives”.48

27.Jacobs’ Demand Management Study49 for the Airports Commission looked at measures to reduce car use at Heathrow. Jacobs concluded that additional charges on car users at Heathrow could have a significant impact on car mode share and overall traffic demand at the airport. A flat £10 access charge (at 2015 prices) could, by 2013, see passenger car mode share decrease by just over 8% and a reduction of 17.5% in the number of morning peak hour journeys.50

28.However, if employees were exempt from the charge, and no reduction in employee car usage was achieved, a £40 charge on all vehicles would be needed to reduce 2030 morning peak traffic to 2013 levels. If employee car usage could be reduced by 20% from the core scenario, then a £20 charge covering all vehicle trips would be required.51 Jacobs acknowledged the potential impact of car charging schemes on airport employees—many of whom are in low-paid jobs—and stressed the need for “flexible and low cost public transport to serve dispersed local catchments” to address this challenge.52

29.Demand management measures affecting car use tend to lead to increased pressures on public transport. Heathrow would be no different: a charge could see capacity problems develop on Crossrail and the Piccadilly Line.53 This, combined with Jacobs’ analysis for the Airports Commission, which predicted very high background non-airport-related demand forecasts for the next fifteen years for rail and road connections serving Heathrow and Gatwick, demonstrates the critical need for integrated transport planning in the South East to accommodate both background and airport-related demand.54

30.Airports with good public transport links see a greater proportion of passengers choosing to use trains, light rail, coaches and buses in preference to private cars to get to and from the airport. Not only can airports with good surface access make more of the opportunities they have to grow and contribute to the economy, but they can also play a part in achieving wider policy objectives such as reducing congestion and improving air quality. Government, local authorities and airports need to do more to encourage modal shift from private vehicles to public transport, particularly rail. Where rail is not appropriate, buses, coaches and other transport should be encouraged. Airports’ Master Plans and Airport Surface Access Strategies provide the Department with a useful policy lever but only if the Department undertakes better scrutiny of the plans and holds airports to account. The current system where airports set their own targets and assess their own performance is unlikely to deliver all of the Government’s objectives as the responsibility for delivering modal shift rests with airports. The Department can do more to support airports and relevant local authorities in making plans for modal shift and in ensuring that such plans take into account the needs of passengers, people employed at airports, freight operators and other users of airports.

31.We recommend that the Department require airport operators to update any plans and surface access strategies that have not been updated in the last five years by the end of this year. There is too little scrutiny of individual strategies and plans which is akin to letting airports set and mark their homework themselves. We recommend that the Government consult on the institutional and governance arrangements needed to ensure airport operators are setting meaningful targets and being held to account for their performance. Any arrangement for greater scrutiny should provide the Department with an assurance that such targets and actions are aligned with the Department’s own policy objectives on modal shift. We return to this point later in our report.

32.We welcome the Civil Aviation Authority’s review of the market structure for surface access, but urge the need for it to strike a careful balance between fairness to motorists and deterring any increase in the number of private vehicle journeys to airports that might be a result of a loosening of the penalty regime. The Government must also plan for the effects of any significant transfer from car to public transport as a result of demand management measures on cars. Integrated transport planning around airports will ensure that an appropriate balance between public transport and car is achieved. The Government should prioritise integrated transport planning for airport surface access for this reason.


33.In Europe, rail service provision is increasingly integrated with air-rail passenger facilities and ticketing arrangements. In Germany, for example, tickets can be purchased which are valid for Lufthansa and over 70 partner airlines, and are valid for connections on the Deutsche Bahn rail network.55

34.Conversely, in the UK poor and sometimes expensive ticketing and fare arrangements can deter passengers from using public transport. The lack of availability of London’s Oyster and Contactless system to London’s peripheral airports is an example. London Travelwatch advised that, prior to the “long overdue” extension of the Oyster network to Gatwick in January 2016, over 5,000 passengers a year were given a Penalty Fare at Gatwick Airport station because they had started their journey using Oyster or Contactless without realising that it was not accepted at the airport terminus.56

35.As the Minister explained, there are major challenges to implementing fully integrated ticketing schemes across different modes of domestic transport, even more so across different countries:

“I would like to see more improvement in terms of better connectivity […] so that one can purchase a ticket from York to Los Angeles including rail and underground, but that means that there has to be better co-ordination between the different transport providers. And who picks up the bill? If one misses one’s plane because of a London Underground problem, would London Underground be expected to pay for the replacement flight?”57

36.The Minister concluded that “there are contractual situations that need to be looked at”.58 He also stressed the need for better information to be made available about the different public transport options available at airports, explaining that “if you arrive at Heathrow it is not made quite clear to you that you could get a National Express coach or an underground ticket. They are very keen to sell you tickets on the Heathrow Express. Part of choice is having good information on which to base it”.59

37.The DfT is looking at options for rolling out smart ticketing and contactless payments throughout the country and across different transport operators. All but one of the Government devolution deals signed to date contain powers to introduce “smart ticketing” systems similar to the London Oyster card. The creation of a legislative framework for a nationwide smart payment mechanism to support integrated ticketing has been included in discussions about the imminent Buses Bill.60 This would probably require the creation of a single national platform to operate effectively, which means that some kind of national steer from Government would be essential. This will be particularly important as the Government signs more local devolution deals across the country. It will be even more important in the North where Transport for the North (TfN) has been given responsibility for implementing smart ticketing at the same time as combined authorities are receiving devolved powers for the same. The National Infrastructure Commission complicates the picture further as its remit also includes “improving connectivity between cities in the north of England”.61 As TfN does not have the same integrated transport planning powers as Transport for London, (and will not obtain statutory status until 201762), and combined authorities may choose to operate different franchising models under the provisions of the Buses Bill, it is difficult to see how systems will be integrated without clarification of the roles, responsibilities and powers of all the actors.

38.Richard de Cani of Transport for London explained that TfL is advising urban areas and combined authorities in other parts of the country to help them introduce new ticketing arrangements for public transport, similar to the Oyster and contactless schemes in London.63 TfL is also working with DfT and rail operators to investigate how Oyster can be extended to Stansted and Luton airports.64

39.We and our predecessor committees have been calling on the Department for Transport to introduce smart ticketing to a nationally recognised standard for almost a decade. Delivery has been patchy. Oyster and contactless go from strength to strength across Greater London and we welcome Transport for London’s enthusiasm for rolling it out across all modes of transport and beyond the traditional London boundaries. We also support the work of other conurbations, particularly as part of their devolution deals, to extend urban smart ticketing to local airports. The Department has been slow to act, choosing to wait for other bodies and for the commercial sector to act; it should do more to lead. We recommend that the Department work with airport operators, airlines and others to devise a workable and affordable system for offering integrated ticketing across all public surface transport modes and airlines for inbound passengers to the UK. The Department must clarify how combined authorities, LEPs, regional transport bodies (including Transport for the North) and the National Infrastructure Commission will work together—and where the ultimate decision-making power lies—to integrate ticketing systems, especially in the North. As a first step the DfT should publish plans which show how it will improve signposting to, and information about, public surface transport options to and from UK airports.

16 London TravelWatch (STA0011)

17 West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) (STA0050)

18 Q5 [Darren Caplan]

19 Heathrow Express, ‘Facts and figures’, accessed 5 February 2016

20 Q2 [Chris Chalk]

21 London TravelWatch (STA0011)

22 Jacobs (STA0083), para 4.2.2

23 Qq188-190

24 London Borough of Hounslow (STA0049)

25 Jacobs (STA0083), para 4.4.2

26 Q16 [Grant Brooker]

27 Jacobs (STA0083), paras 3.1.6-3.1.7

28 Jacobs (STA0083), para 3.1.5

29 London TravelWatch (STA0011)

30 ABTA (STA0010)

31 ABTA (STA0010)

32 ABTA (STA0010)

33 Airport Operators Association (STA0079)

34 Stansted Airport Consultative Committee (STA0026)

36 Jacobs (STA0083), para 3.2.1

37 Jacobs (STA0083), paras 3.2.2-3.2.3

38 Jacobs (STA0083), para 3.2.4

39 West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (STA0041)

40 Q11 [Grant Brooker]

41 Q171 [Robert Goodwill]

42 Jacobs (STA0083), para 3.2.5

43 The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (STA0030)

44 Q6 [Dave Haskins]

45 Jacobs (STA0083), para 3.3.1

46 Q191 [Robert Goodwill]

50 If taxis were exempt from paying the £10 charge, car mode share would reduce by less than 4% and overall passenger vehicle trips would reduce by only 7.5%

51 Ibid, para 3.3

52 Jacobs (STA0083), para 4.3.1

53 Jacobs (STA0083), paras 4.2.12-13

54 Jacobs (STA0083), para 4.1.2

55 Jacobs (STA0083), para 4.2.4

56 London TravelWatch (STA0011)

57 Q193 [Robert Goodwill]

58 Q193 [Robert Goodwill]

59 Q193 [Robert Goodwill]

60 Department for Transport, Bus Reform Workshops Background Document, September 2015

61 National Infrastructure Commission, National Infrastructure Commission Call for Evidence, November 2015

62 The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act was passed on 28 January 2016. The Act enables the establishment of regional transport bodies such as Transport for the North as a statutory bodies. Plans are in place to develop TfN into a statutory body by 2017.

63 Q103 [Richard de Cani]

64 Q104 [Richard de Cani]

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 24 February 2016