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Commuting, COVID and decarbonising transport

Calendar icon Active Travel and transport, Environment

Folder icon Sep 2020 - Ongoing

In Scotland, the government has set a target of a 75% reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, a 20% reduction in car kilometres driven by 2030, and of reaching net zero by 2045. Additionally, Scotland’s two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. 

This project involved the  University of Strathclyde, University of Glasgow, City of Glasgow College, Glasgow City Council, and the Scottish Parliament to understand the progress each is making in shifting to more active and sustainable travel among staff and students.  

objectives icon Project objectives

  • To describe the context of each organisation, staff travel trends, the impacts of COVID-19 on travel, active sustainable travel policies and schemes to promote sustainable travel. 
  • To illustrate where progress is being made. 
  • To highlight where challenges remain in active and sustainable travel implementation. 
  • To provide recommendations for making progress in shifting to sustainable travel. 

Decarbonising transport 2

involved icon What is involved

This was a desk-based exercise with a clear focus on how these five organisations are making progress on active and sustainable travel. Information on organisational contexts, staff travel trends, COVID-19 travel impacts, relevant policies, and promotional activities was collected via a form designed by the authors and completed by each organisation. The data gathered by the authors were supplemented with additional relevant information stemming from discussions among the authors as comparisons were made and the report was drafted. 

To discuss the emerging findings, a workshop with a range of people from transport providers, transport planning and policy, public health and academia was held in March 2023. The discussion at this workshop helped to shape the final recommendations in the report. 

findings icon Findings & outcomes

  • Each organisation’s circumstances are unique and different. 
  • In all five organisations compared, levels of public transport commuting and active commuting are higher than the national average. 
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on sustainable travel. 
  • Across Scotland, it is likely that hybrid working means traditional weekly or monthly season tickets are no longer value for money. 
  • All the organisations provide facilities to support active travel, such as showers and secure bike parking, although the level of provision in relation to staff complement varies substantially. 
  • Encouragement for active and sustainable transport varies in terms of the range of schemes and engagement activities supported in each organisation, and there is less obvious support for efforts to reduce car use. 
  • Car-parking policy influences motive to drive to work and study. 
  • Most organisations are in the process of developing strategies for providing electric vehicle charging facilities. 
  • Most organisations have or are developing business-travel policy, but this tends to be guidance or advice and is difficult to enforce. 
  • Flexible working practices have the potential to create a better work-life balance for employees and, if interpreted imaginatively, could enable more sustainable travel. 

Decarbonising transport 3


Public transport 

  • Joint effort from transport authorities and the five organisations involved is needed to encourage people back onto public transport. To achieve this, public transport needs to be affordable, accessible, reliable, convenient and safe. 
  • Consistent pricing and integrated ticketing, providing one ticket to cover all public transport. 
  • Flexible ticket options are needed and public transport needs to become more frequent outside the standard peak times and have better geographic coverage. 

Behaviour change and infrastructure 

  • Behaviour-change efforts to promote sustainable transport need to be better co-ordinated. 
  • Higher-standard active travel facilities are needed for employees. 
  • Investment in regional sustainable transport infrastructure is urgently required 

Car use and parking 

  • Institutions need to give clear and consistent priority to affordable public transport and active travel over car use. 
  • Organisations should be reducing car-parking capacity and focussing on costs, but with fairness and affordability in mind, and while not penalising staff who need to use a car because of caring responsibilities, disability, or due to working shifts and unsociable hours.  

resources icon Further resources & reading

Glasgow’s bikeshare scheme: trends in use | Glasgow Centre for Population Health (

Cycling Trends in Scotland during the Early Phase of the COVID Pandemic 
Whyte B, McArthur D, Garnham L and Livingston M. Active Travel Studies. 2022 

Quantifying the health and economic benefits of active commuting in Scotland 
Baker G, Pillinger R, Kelly P, Whyte B. Journal of Transport and Health. 2021 

Making the shift to sustainable transport in Scotland 
Davis A and Whyte B. Cities & Health, 2020 

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