The cost of carbon-intensive travel:

Incentivising sustainable transportation.

As the climate crisis intensifies, so, too, does the cost of carbon-intensive travel. To mitigate this, behaviours need to change. How might this be done? By incentivising sustainable transportation.

Transportation is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately 25% of global CO2 emissions. It only stands to reason that changing it plays a key role in achieving global climate goals. Behaviour must change, and so, too, must infrastructure. Decarbonising transportation requires the public to adopt sustainable travel behaviours. However, the cost of public transport deters achieving this goal. Indeed, recent developments in the UK and Germany highlight how travel prices can impact public travel behaviours.

The anti-incentivisation of the UK’s transport system

In the UK, rail fares are set to rise by 5.9% this year – the largest increase in 11 years. To some extent, the rise in fares is understandable: inflation is high, the economy is strained. However, the real strain is on rail passengers – especially medium and low-income households – who are already reeling under the pressure of the cost of living crisis. Campaigners are right to point out that relatively poor services and ongoing strikes have already eroded public confidence in rail travel. Interestingly, the increase in rail fares comes at the same time of cost cuts in fuel and air passenger duties, creating unintended but perverse incentives for people to choose less sustainable modes of travel.

Germany’s model

In contrast, Germany has introduced an innovative policy which seeks to incentivise sustainable travel. The country is set to launch a scheme that allows people to travel anywhere in the country by train, tram, and bus for just €49 per month. This initiative promotes the use of public transportation and helps lower-income households save money on transportation costs. The scheme was trialled in 2022 and proved highly successful, with 50 million passes sold, covering one billion trips per month, and saving 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Decarbonising transportation requires comprehensive policies and initiatives. They need to address the structural, practical and financial barriers to more sustainable travel. By providing affordable and accessible options for low-carbon travel, only then can public behaviour change towards more sustainable and active travel. Policymakers need to use a range of regulatory and non-regulatory measures to enable these changes. After all, the costs of providing these incentives and building the required infrastructure are no doubt significant, but the cost of inaction will be far higher.

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