University of Leeds Senior Research Fellow, Ian Philips, interviews Greg Marsden about his work in Transport & Mobility.
Please tell us a little about your research?
My research is into the design and implementation of transport policies, in particular I’m focused on those that relate to carbon reduction and management of energy demand.
Why is transport so difficult to decarbonise?
Transport is difficult to decarbonise because it is a sector that is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels and it is quite dispersed, so there are 23 million cars owned in the UK and there are lots of individuals, whereas with the power sector, for example, you can try to tackle it by looking at a small number of actors. So it is quite a complicated problem and politically sensitive because it may mean changing what people do and we have put it to the back of the queue of things we want to be getting on with.
Will decarbonisation of the transport system work the same everywhere in the country?
Everywhere has different transport opportunities. When you look at the London/non London dichotomy, transport services are a lot better in London, but any city you have central areas and they have good public transport alternatives, but you go to the suburbs and that is not the case and obviously there are rural areas. So there has been a tendency to talk about a carbon transition, but in fact it is going to have to be many different things in different places.
How do the outputs of your research inform policy in practice?
One of the big things that we have done over the last couple of years has been the Commission on Travel Demand, where we try to bring together academic evidence, government evidence and evidence from the private sector, to have a conversation about how we could work together to change the future, to reduce the amount we need to travel. So for example, at the moment we are working on sharing and what we could do to increase the utilisation of vehicles. There are currently 26 million empty seats that go around in people’s cars on the commute in the morning. What can we do to tackle that huge waste of energy? What can we learn from experiences of trials that have been done to date with businesses and with local government?
If you had to advise the secretary of state to do one thing to tackle carbon what would it be?
I would say congratulations for taking the need to decarbonise the vehicle fleet seriously, there is an increasingly credible strategy towards accelerating the electrification of vehicles. However, we can’t afford to forget travel demand. At the moment we have all our eggs in the technology basket. We need to decarbonise further or faster or the technology doesn’t deliver on the quite ambitious trajectory that the government set out, we need to do more. We need to do more for other reasons like public health and active lifestyles so it’s a win/win dealing with the travel demand side of things as well.
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