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Changing the daily commute

Source: Public Sector Executive Jan/Feb 2013

Nicola Small, senior transport planner at Warwickshire County Council, tells PSE about a forum that lets businesses share ideas about improving local transport for employees.

Businesses can have a signifi cant role to play in their employees’ transport decisions – and Warwickshire County Council is exploring how local firms can work together, discuss new ideas and learn from best practice to use transport more sustainably.

The first meeting of the Warwick Business Transport Forum, on January 22, saw National Grid, Jaguar Land Rover, Warwickshire College and Guide Dogs for the Blind come together.

The group has agreed to meet on a regular basis to discuss any transportation issues that affect them and to work on improving alternative modes of travel for their staff.

Parking problems

One of the main issues discussed was car parking policy, and how companies can manage the amount of employees driving in to work with constraints on space and environmental concerns.

Schemes being trialled include only allocating parking permits for staff who sign up to a car-share database in a group. This could cut carbon emissions and free-up space in the car park whilst still allowing staff to get to work. Those that choose not to sign up must fi nd an alternative way to travel or park.

Senior transport planner at Warwickshire County Council, Nicola Small, told PSE: “Transport is a hot topic. Most companies are only interested in it when they’ve got a parking issue, that’s the reality. They don’t have enough room to accommodate all the people that are driving in but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all those drivers need to be driving in.

“It’s about coming up with ways to encourage their staff to reduce single occupancy car use. Public transport needs to be encouraged but only where the services exist. That’s why we need to open up talks with our operators because at the moment the current services do not necessarily meet the demand.”

Buses were also a hot topic at the meeting, and collaboration is being planned with local operator Stagecoach to improve the current bus service with links to local businesses could further boost sustainable transport.

There is currently only a low number of services early in the morning and Stagecoach might be able to provide services for commuters if they knew that there was suffi cient demand, Small suggested.

The right time

The transport forum had existed in Warwick some years previously, although it had “died a natural death”, Small said. Now was “the right time to reestablish it”, particularly for expanding companies who may have new questions and ideas concerning employee transportation.

Small described the aims of the group: “It’s bringing different people together, to fi nd solutions. I felt really motivated by the group around the table to see how they were sharing ideas, networking. Their main concerns were how they were going to get a large number of employees to get to their site, sustainably.”

The group will now meet on a regular basis, with a main topic for discussion dependent on the companies’ challenges and initiatives at the time. Future issues could consider accessibility for all employees, including those with disabilities, and cycling provision.

“Whatever companies are struggling with; we have a list of topics that people want to share ideas on and we will meet as and when required to discuss those topics.”

Modal shift

Small added that the companies were looking for big modal shifts that could be achieved through car sharing, public bus services and business-run commuter services.

The companies that do run their own commuterbus services are already at capacity, and to increase this may not be the most cost-effective way of infl uencing transport behaviour. The group will be asking Stagecoach if it is willing to work to fi ll these gaps and provide extra transport options, delivering services with much larger effi ciencies of scale. “We’ll see how the meeting goes with Stagecoach: if anything can come of that then that will be a real success story for the group and something to be shared.”

Several motivations lie behind the need to improve parking provision, including the specifi c needs of local people, corporate social responsibility, and reducing stress levels in staff, Small said.

“There are all sorts of reasons why companies come to us with concerns about travel. People that park on the roads outside, for example, in out of town locations and business parks can prevent emergency services from accessing their site – that’s a health and safety motivation.

“It really depends on the sites and locations for what persuades them to look at travel. But if you get a location that’s got ample parking for their staff then unfortunately companies tend to do nothing.”

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