Railway in the snow by PriceM on Adobe Stock

The governance of radical mobility change

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October 2019 to March 2023

Project team

Greg Marsden

Tim Schwanen

Ersilia Verlinghieri

This project looks at why particular policies are adopted more rapidly and work better in different places and institutional structures.

In order to be compliant with the commitments of the 6th Carbon budget, there needs to be a step change in the approach to decarbonising transport. In the 30 years to 2019 there was no change in transport emissions, yet by 2035 emissions need to have come down by 67%. As local authorities have begun the process of assessing the actions that would be consistent with this, the conclusions are stark. Strategies require a mix of shifting to public transport and active travel never before achieved, alongside reductions in the amount of travel by car, whilst simultaneously delivering a rapid shift to electric mobility. It is far from clear that the necessary policy levers, political recognition of the need to act and will to do so or the capacity to engage the public in this challenging transition exist.

This project starts from the perspective that to affect change on the scale required will require building from experience in places which have already begun to make the shift, even if not yet on the scale required. What is it that has enabled those places to go further or faster and are there lessons for other places? The research is taking place in three local authorities who, for different reasons, can be seen as early leaders:

  • Oxford – which has been an early adopter of experiments in electrification and is linking its climate strategy to air quality through a zero emissions zone. Arrangements in Oxford involve coordination between the City Council which has limited transport powers and the County of Oxfordshire which serves a diverse set of more rural interests and is the highways authority for the area;
  • Leeds – which has been an early adopter of radical carbon reduction targets and has held a citizen’s assembly. It has recently published its vision to reach zero carbon by 2030 and to be a city where you do not need to own a car.
  • Nottingham – which has, according to national statistics, been one of the top performing authorities outside of Greater London in cutting emissions. It has a Workplace Parking Levy, municipally owned bus company and a developing tram system as well as being an early adopter of electrification initiatives.

What we are asking

  • What conditions help with the accelerated adoption of more radical decarbonisation pathways?
  • How important are social movements and public engagement to the pursuit of radical policies?
  • How important are transparent carbon budgets and strong accountability frameworks to ensuring policy progress?
  • What governance structures and conditions enable more effective mode-shift and demand reduction policies to be adopted?
  • What would actions would further unlock progress in cutting emissions and where across different scales of government does these need to be taken?


Banner photo credit: PriceM on Adobe Stock