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30 January 2012

Dr Robin Hickman: “To lower CO2 emissions, act across policy areas, vehicle technologies and behaviours.”

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Dr Robin Hickman, research fellow at the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford and Associate Director of transport research at the Halcrow Group, talked about his sustainable transport research.

You and colleagues have done research suggesting different ways to lower CO2 emissions in the transport sector.  What are the greatest challenges?
We made the point that you have to act across a number of policy areas, including vehicle technologies and also travel behaviours. The greatest challenges are to have low emission vehicles, hybrid cars and electric cars, in the vehicle fleet at the mass market scale and to make more people use public transport, walk and cycle. It is obviously very difficult to get a large change.

The level of subsidy needs to be a lot, so the hybrid cars become cheaper than the petrol comparatives. That is obviously very expensive for the government.  There are also all sorts of inertia issues. For example, people like to buy technologies they know will work. With electric cars there are all sorts of problems with battery charging, distances you can travel without recharging and lack of charging infrastructure, which makes the uptake lower than would be expected.

You and colleagues have carried out research in Oxfordshire and have written a paper about how low carbon transport pathways impact the economy, social and local environment. You write that a greater focus is required in developing participatory approaches to decision making. How can the participatory approaches be developed?
We have developed a useful methodology for people within city planning, whereby people can get involved in the debate around what their travel behaviours might be in the future.  We developed scenarios that we talked through and can be used as a basis for discussion and participation for the public, but also stakeholders and transport planners within local authorities.

We have since done similar studies in various contexts, looking at how we could develop a high quality of life in cities across world. For example, the report about Auckland in New Zealand will be finished in the next couple of weeks and we have just finished the research in Jinan in China.

What are the biggest differences between the cities when it comes to what can be done?
There are many differences by context. For example, China has huge opportunities for investment. They can implement things on a huge scale in quick times.  Delhi has less funding available so they have to think around other ways of investing in transport and infrastructure.  In the UK there are some levels of funding, but difficulties in the last couple of years in terms of funding means that less of the bigger projects have been invested in. It tends to be more on the behavioural side of things, trying to persuade people to use the car less rather than big network investments. provides its content to all media free of charge. We would appreciate if you could acknowledge as the source of the content.