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Travel smarter – or the polar bear gets it

In Memory of Henry Spurrier
'An Offer You Can't Refuse – The Role of Social Marketing in Changing People's Travel Behaviour' was the controversial theme of this year's CILT Transport Planning Lecture by Ben Plowden, Director – Smarter Travel Unit Transport for London

Wednesday evening's prestigious 2008 CILT Transport Planning Lecture gave Ben's professional insight into how transport planners can, and should, influence travel behaviour. Ben reminded everyone of the recent BBC wildlife programme featuring the plight of a polar bear who – due to global warming – swam for two days in search of food before meeting a gory end at the hands – or rather tusks – of a large walrus.

The fate of that bear is down to every individual's excessive energy use, he suggested. But in recent years social marketing has sprung to prominence as a way of changing people's behaviour.

Ben drew attention to the recent smoking ban – an idea unthinkable 20 years ago. 'The new law did not really upset the majority of people, even smokers. It has become a legitimate thing for the state to intervene in people's decision making,' he said.

He likened the smoking ban to another piece of social engineering, London's Congestion Charge. This has lead to a 4% reduction in car travel at a time when every other city still sees traffic levels rising. 'No where else in the world has anyone achieved such a net shift', he announced.

There are four big questions facing planners:

· Whether people have to travel at all; or could, for instance, work from home;

· Where they have to travel to; the shorter the distance, the more solutions like cycling or walking succeed;

· When they travel; getting just a few percent of people travelling later than peak period could, for example, keep Victoria tube station open every morning rather than closed for congestion;

· How they travel; walking is often quicker than tube travel between stations such as Leicester Square to Covent Garden he pointed out.

Can and should TfL change people's travel behaviour, in terms of when, how or where they choose to travel? Ben's conclusion was that it should. He also added that by not flying abroad on holiday we save the equivalent carbon emission of four months driving to work. Making small changes in behaviour can have a big impact.

He concluded his lively and well-received presentation by saying that transport planners should use social engineering techniques to encourage smarter travel, or else – once more – 'the polar bear gets it.'

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK – CILT(UK) – is the professional body for individuals and organisations involved in all disciplines, modes and aspects of logistics and transport. The Institute's 20,000 members have privileged access to a unique range of benefits and services, which are designed to support them, personally and professionally, throughout their careers and help connect them with worldwide expertise.

Visit the website at www.ciltuk.org.uk

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