An alternative to nudging: travel behaviour change through coaching

In response to the current emphasis for “nudge” methodologies, an alternative method has recently been put forward by behaviour change practioners Liz Ampt (Concepts of Change, formerly SKM) and Colin Ashton-Graham. The two have worked together on a number of large-scale behaviour change projects, looking at influencing travel, water, waste and energy behaviours.

As presented by SKM Colin Buchanan’s Jo Boyd-Wallis at the recent Envecon 2013 Environmental Economics conference, the practioners’ on-the-ground experience has led them to the conclusion that “ask is the new nudge”. The premise is that nudge is limited in its scope and potential audience, because it focusses on changing just one behaviour. Instead, their projects have evolved to involve a number of coaching-style conversations with the participants; the participant is not informed of the potential changes they could make, they are instead asked questions to identify one thing, personal to them, that they would like to change and then helped to find their own solution.

One difference between these projects and traditional large-scale behaviour change projects is that they do not use segmentation. This is not to say they are generic information/marketing campaigns (which have been proven time and again not to be cost-effective) but instead use a conversation approach that allows the advice to be both open to everyone and personalised. Behavioural psychology literature demonstrates that attitude is a poor predictor of behaviour, so segmenting people by demographics can limit the potential audience without guaranteeing results. In fact, people from a wide variety of backgrounds and attitudes can make a change; evaluations often do not find a common demographic factor between those who have taken part, with theoretically unlikely participants having made a change. An open, facilitated, coaching-style conversation means that every participant household has the potential to participate and make a change that is relevant to them.

Crucially, the participant is not being told what to do (or what not to do) but instead has the opportunity to solve their own problem, helping to overcome the gap between a pro-environmental attitude and actual behaviour. The changes may not be conventional or predictable, and may just involve one small action, but cumulatively over a large community they can add up to a significant shift in behaviour.

Some real life examples of these changes include:
 A mother who drives her son to school every day identifies that she wants more time to herself in the mornings. Through the coaching conversation, she identifies that she doesn’t know anyone to car share with, so the facilitator helps her realise she could ask her son to find a family to share with, therefore enabling her to share the school run.
 An art dealer who is often late to pick up art work due to not being able to find a car parking space. Through realising that it would only take 5 minutes longer to walk into town but the journey time would be reliable as he didn’t have to drive around to find a parking space, he improved his reliability for clients, reduced his stress levels and even improved his asthma through more exercise.

The coaching conversations finish by closing the “social contract”: the participant commits to making that change and the facilitator promises to follow up and check their progress with more phonecalls over the course of several months. During the follow-up phonecalls, the facilitator checks what has been changed and congratulates the participant, making them feel good to help instigate further good behaviour changes (the “spill-over” effect). They can also note any success stories for use in case studies and conversations with future participants.

By applying our practical experience and real-life case studies to the theories of behaviour change and behavioural economics we can encourage real behaviour change in communities – without telling them what to do, or even having to give them a nudge, but by helping them to help themselves.


Getting the “interested but concerned’ to cycle

The release of the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London has been welcomed by many of us keen to further spread the joy of cycling in the Capital.

Investment over the last ten years has helped thousands of people to return to cycling through the creation of a basic pan-London cycle network, the start of the Barclay’s Cycle Superhighways, the introduction of the Barclay’s Cycle Hire scheme, the Biking Borough programme and a long list of smarter choices measures aimed at helping potential cyclists.

The new vision can be seen as a redoubling of efforts – taking all elements of cycling to a new level. The success of these previous efforts has created a critical mass of cyclists eager for more – and more importantly, created a whole new wave of potential cyclists awaiting the creation of a cycling environment in which they feel they can take part.

A US-based study aimed at classifying types of cyclists found the population can be roughly broken down into four categories: the strong & fearless, the enthused & confident, the interested but concerned, and ‘no way no how’. Not long ago, London was a city for the strong & fearless, accounting for less than 1% of the population, willing to take their life into their own hands for the sake of their chosen transport option. The last ten years has seen the emergence of the enthused & confident, accounting for around 7% of the population, who are generally thought to be comfortable cycling with traffic but have been attracted by efforts aimed at supporting cyclists.

The next group is that which the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling is targeting. The ‘interested but concerned’, found in the study to account for 60% of the general population, are a critical group in creating cycling as a normalised behaviour in London. This is a group worried about the current safety of cycling in London, they lack the confidence to cycle on many of London’s streets, and are waiting for the real world to match up with their expectations of a safe, comfortable environment for cycling. In many cases this will take the form of segregated cycle lanes, quietways and safer junctions, but supporting ‘soft’ measures will also play a critical role in raising awareness, increasing confidence and maybe giving that final push to get this group onto their bikes.

While the remaining third of the population may currently have no interest in cycling, perhaps someday the appeal and ease of cycling in London will be so great that even the most hardened anti-cyclists are at least willing to give it a passing thought.

For now, the Mayor’s Vision is just what cycling in London needs: a strong push up the ladder, helping to turn London from a place where certain types of people cycle to a place where all types of people cycle. And where lycra is strictly optional.

Driverless cars – how will they impact on our lives

Driverless cars are coming. We still don’t know exactly when we will be able to afford one and where they will make their first large-scale appearance, but they are on their way and they will significantly impact on efficiency, health and safety, business models across different industries and our lifestyle in general. Companies like Google are already putting a lot of money and effort into developing them and even claim that driverless cars could reduce road accidents by 90% and save up to $400 billion a year. These are big numbers.

The exact impacts of this new technology will depend on certain factors once it becomes a frequently used product in our lives. These include whether users will actually buy these cars or rent them in effect using them as taxis which will in turn have an impact on prices, tariff innovation and congestion depending on the level of empty running. Computer controlled cars will be far more energy efficient as acceleration and breaking will be far smoother leading to potential reduction in CO2 emissions. They could even impact the way we design our streets and cities, as parking spots in central areas may no longer be necessary. As a result, there is potential for transformation not only of our transport systems but our towns and cities and many aspects of our life.

How quickly driverless cars enter the market in a significant way will depend on purchase/rental price, regulation, insurance policy and reliability. Which country will be the first to adapt them is intriguing. Will it be in the US, where parking lots occupy a vast proportion of urban space or China where road accidents and congestion are serious issues, or Iceland with its supply of cheap electricity but expensive imported oil. It could happen almost anywhere.

A series of articles under the name “The implications of a driverless car world” will be published in this blog in the near future with the aim of exploring the potential impacts of driverless cars on the following areas:

-Public and Private transport use and urban development
-Health and Environment

Driverless cars will soon no longer be a science fiction product but a reality that will transform personal mobility and will require adaptation from many other sectors.

National Planning Policy Framework: NPPF – Briefing

What is the NPPF?

The NPPF sets out national planning policies for England.  These apply with immediate effect.

The NPPF reduces and distils over 1,000 pages of policy across more than 40 documents into just 59 pages.  The intention is that this will lead to a simpler, more accessible planning system while aiming to strengthen local decision making and reinforce the importance of up-to-date plans.

It supersedes and replaces almost all previous national planning policy statements (PPS) and planning policy guidance notes (PPG).  One notable exception is PPS 10 on waste which remains in force until the National Waste Management Plan for England is published.  The Government has also signalled its intention to revoke Regional Strategies.  This will happen as soon as the environmental assessment of that decision has been completed.

The NPPF does not address nationally significant infrastructure projects, which will be set out in national policy statements for major infrastructure.

What is ‘Sustainable Development’?

The NPPF introduces a presumption in favour of sustainable development.  This is the golden-thread now running through the new guidance.  If it can be demonstrated that proposed development is sustainable and fits with local policy then it should have a good chance of being approved.

The NPPF goes back to the high level 1987 Bruntland Report definition of sustainable development which talks about meeting today’s needs without compromising the needs of future generations.  It also refers to the five guiding principles established in the 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy, being (1) living with the planet’s environmental limits; (2) ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; (3) achieving a sustainable economy; (4) promoting good governance; and (5) using sound science responsibly.

Sustainable development will be achieved through implementation of policies set out in paragraphs 18 through 219 of the NPPF.  Underpinning this is the need to improve the quality of life, the natural, built and historic environment.

What are the Key Messages?

Housing and Development

n   Local planning authorities should plan to meet the full, objectively assessed housing needs for the area.

n   Local Planning authorities should continue to identify a five year supply of deliverable land for housing.  An additional buffer of 5% should also be identified, although this is increased to 20% where there is a history of under performance in terms of housing development.

n   Local authorities can include an element of windfall development in their five-year supply if there is compelling evidence that such sites have consistently come forward and will continue to.

n   New settlements or extensions to villages and towns that follow the principles of Garden Cities might help deliver the supply of new homes.

n   Planning policies should encourage the re use of previously developed, brownfield land.  Locally appropriate targets for the use of brownfield land can be set by the local authority.

n   Protection of the green belt remains, though the quality of green belt land should be enhanced.  Green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances or through review of the Local Plan.

n   Local and Neighbourhood Plans should develop robust and comprehensive design policies.  Local design review panels should be set up.  Applications of a poor design should be refused.


n   Significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth through the planning system.

n   The sequential test for planning applications for town centre uses in out of centre locations should be applied.

n   Planning policies should avoid the long term protection of sites allocated for employment uses where there is no prospect of a site being used for that purpose.


n   LPAs should aim to minimise pollution and other adverse effects on the local and natural environment.  Plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value.

n   A new Local Plan designation for Local Green Space will enable communities to rule out development other than in very special circumstances.

n   The presumption in favour of sustainable development (paragraph 14 of the NPPF) does not apply where development requiring appropriate assessment under the Birds or Habitats Directives is being considered, planed or determined.

n   Smarter use of technologies should be investigated in order to reduce the need to travel

Flood Risk, Climate Change and Energy

n   Local planning authorities should adopt proactive strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, flood risk, coastal change and water supply.  The sequential and exception tests for development in areas at risk of flooding remains.  Further guidance on this is provided in the accompanying Technical Guidance document along with some mineral policies transferred from MPG

n   Renewable and low carbon energy generation is seen as central to future sustainable development.  LPAs are required to identify areas as suitable for renewable and low-carbon energy development, and make clear what criteria have determined their selection, including for what size of development the areas are considered suitable.

What are the implications for Local Plans? 

The NPPF reinforces the principles of the plan-led system.

Planning decisions should be taken in accordance with the Local Plan, unless material considerations suggest otherwise.  Where a Local Plan is absent, silent or out-of-date, planning permission should be granted unless it does not comply with the policies contained within the NPPF.

The NPPF encourages the production of a single Local Plan; and Supplementary Planning Documents where justified.  These should not place additional financial burdens on developers.  Only policies that provide a clear indication of how a development proposal will be reacted to by decision makers should be included in the Plan.

Local Planning Authorities have twelve months from publication of the NPPF to bring existing plans into conformity with the NPPF.  In the meantime, full weight will be given to adopted Plans, on the basis that there is only a limited degree of conflict with NPPF

LPAs should collaborate   with neighbouring authorities on cross boundary issues, particularly in terms of housing and infrastructure matters.

What should be in the Local Plan?

Local Plans should reflect the vision and objectives of the local community.

They should set out policies that guide how the presumption in favour of sustainable development should be applied at the district level and they should encourage local people to bring neighbourhood plans forward.

Local organisations, communities and businesses thus need to be proactively engaged in the production of the Local Plan.

Local Plans will continue to be subject to independent examination.  They will be assessed against the duty to cooperate on cross boundary issues, legal and procedural requirements.  A Plan will be found sound if can be demonstrated that it has been positively prepared, is justified, effective and consistent with the NPPF.

The Local Plan should identify broad locations for strategic development, allocate sites to promote development and the flexible use of land, identify any areas where development would be inappropriate and contain strategies for enhancing the environment.  They should contain a proposals map.

2012 Budget – main transport and planning issues

This note provides an overview of the key announcements in the budget related to Transport and Planning. Some of which are just re-announcements of previous policies and commitments.


The Government: will take forward many of Alan Cook’s recommendations for roads, including developing a national roads strategy and setting a renewed focus on the level of performance expected from the Highways Agency.2 The Government will also consider whether to go further and will carry out a feasibility study into new ownership and financing models for the national road network, learning lessons from the water industry, to report on progress by Autumn Statement 2012;

It has identified a shortlist of options to increase capacity and improve performance on the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge, some of which could be part-funded through tolling. These include widening some sections, rationalising access to the route, and improving the route of the southern bypass for Huntingdon. In addition, the Government is considering measures to shift more freight from road to rail and to enhance public transport. The preferred package will be finalised by July 2012.

The Government is also delivering on the other commitments made in the National Infrastructure Plan 2011 to target investment where it is most needed and facilitate delivery of major projects. In particular, the Government:

it  will support Network Rail to invest a further £130 million in the Northern Hub rail scheme, subject to value for money, to improve transport links between Manchester and Sheffield, Rochdale, Halifax, Bradford, Bolton, Preston and Blackpool, including increasing capacity on the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield. This builds on previously announced investments to electrify the Transpennine railway route from Manchester to Leeds and build the Ordsall Chord between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria stations;

explore the case for using the Planning Act 2008 to streamline the planning process for the proposed additional river crossings in East London, for example at Silvertown, which will reduce peak period delays and congestion in the area. The Government is also working with the railway industry, Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor of London to consider further investments to improve rail journeys into and within London, including longer trains and increased capacity at stations. Further details will be announced in summer 2012. The Government will grant £15 million to TfL for investments in cycle safety, which will include improved provision for cyclists at junctions across the capital under consideration in TfL’s cycle safety junction review;

continue to work with the Welsh Government to consider electrification of the Welsh Valley lines, subject to value for money and an agreement on financing. A final decision will be announced in summer 2012;

the Government can also confirm it will provide £56 million of support for the Bexhill to Hastings link road to facilitate economic regeneration in a deprived area of the South East;



The Government: will publish a strategy for gas generation in autumn 2012, and continue implementing electricity market reform, recognising that gas-fired electricity generation will continue to play a major role in UK energy supplies over the next decade and beyond and has introduced further measures including: setting out plans for the Green Deal to support energy efficiency; introducing the Renewable Heat Incentive; providing £1 billion to support the commercialisation of Carbon Capture and Storage; taking forward the Renewables Obligation Banding Review; and developing five new Centres for Offshore Renewable Engineering.


The Get Britain Building Fund, will be increased by £150 million, which will help deliver over 3,000 more homes and the Government  is accelerating the release of public sector land and has now identified sufficient land to meet its ambition to dispose of land with the capacity to build over 100,000 homes and support as many as 25,000 jobs by April 2014. A progress report setting out further details will be published before summer 2012. It is also taking forward pilots of land auctions for public sector land, with the aim of having two sites ready for market by the end of 2012.

The Government will consult on the potential role a social housing Real Estate Investment Trust could play to support investment in the social housing sector. The Government is also implementing reform of the Housing Revenue Account subsidy system to give local authorities responsibility for managing their own council housing businesses.

Supporting investment across the UK

To support investment across the English regions, the Government: is working with the eight core cities on a package of measures to decentralise decision-making power away from central Government. The Government has agreed proposals with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to pilot an innovative new Earn Back Model that is set to unlock £1.2 billion of infrastructure investment across the city region. Proposals from Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield will be finalised over the course of 2012.

The Government will make up to £150 million available from 2013–14, including through additional funding, for larger scale projects in core cities to be financed through Tax Increment Financing (TIF 2), which enables local authorities to borrow against future growth in business rates. Further details on a competition for allocating funding will be announced in the coming months;

It will increase the Growing Places fund by £270 million to empower local communities and businesses to lead development in their own areas, including £70 million for the Greater London Authority.

It has supported the establishment of a new Pension Infrastructure Platform owned and run by UK pension funds, which will make the first wave of its initial £2 billion investment in UK infrastructure by early 2013. A separate group of pension fund investors has also presented proposals to the Treasury for increasing pension plan investment in infrastructure in the construction phase.


The Government will publish the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) by the end of March 2012, coming into force for plan-making and decisions from that point onwards, with appropriate implementation arrangements for local authorities with pro-growth policies in local plans. There will be support to help local authorities get plans up to date quickly.

The NPPF will refocus planning policy to better support growth, will include a powerful presumption in favour of sustainable development to underpin all local plans and decisions, and will localise choice about the use of previously developed land, ending nationally imposed targets.

The Government: will introduce further measures to deregulate and simplify the planning system. The Government will shortly consult on reducing information requirements and on proposals to amend the Use Class Order and the associated permitted development rights to make changing the use of buildings easier, for implementation by April 2013. In addition, new permitted development rights for micro-renewable energy installations will come into force in April 2012; will remove duplication in the consenting regime for major infrastructure development by bringing forward legislation to adjust the scope of Special Parliamentary Procedure, and will shortly publish draft revised guidance to make the regime clearer and easier to use.


Budget 2012 – the wisdom of crowds – the result

We have slightly adapted our annual tradition of predicting the contents of the Budget to make it a contest between the “wisdom of crowds” and our economics team. So we invited SKM’s multitude of engineers, environmentalists,  planners and countless other specialists to come together to see if they can outperform our economists.  And they responded in their hundreds.

Interestingly in most areas our economists and “wise crowd” agreed with each other but there were some significant differences.  These were as follows:

  • So while our economists expect the 50% rate of income tax to be phased out 56% of our wise crowd expect it to be retained – tax rate reduced to 45% so the economists are claiming half a point
  • On fuel duty our economists expect no change while the wise crowd expect an increase with the largest number predicting at least a 2p increase per litre for petrol – tricky this one we are saying the economists were right as no additional change other than the previously announced increase was made
  • On Corporation tax the economists predict a reduction to 22% while the wise crowd expect no change – clear win for economists with a reduction to 22% by 2014 announced
  • Whilst in relation to the Government’s net financing agreement the wise crowd predict somewhere between £125-149bn while the economists were split. The grey hairs being optimistic and predicting it will be between £125-149bn while the more youthful and exuberant were surprising pessimistic and predicted over £175bn. – grey hairs were correct along with the wise crowd – the figure being £126bn

Both groups expect no change in the basic rate of income tax, that the personnel allowance will increase in line with inflation, that the basic rate of VAT will remain unchanged, that excise duty on beer will rise by 4p a pint, that the Chancellor will resist the temptation to introduce a new mansion tax and that his budget speech will last for between 46-60 minutes.

As for the rest fairly spot on although effectively a new mansion tax was introduced. The personal allowance rose by more than inflation but is not quite yet at the £10,000 coalition government target while duty on a pint of beer rises by 5p rather than 4p. In terms of timing I made it 58 minutes so we got that right as well as VAT and basic income tax predictions.

As in previous years we will compare what the Chancellor actually announces with our predictions and see if we can beat last years 71/2 out of ten success rate.

So the economists are claiming victory over the wise crowd. 

Who pays for our Scottish railways?

Transport Scotland recently published its consultation document on the future of rail services in the country. Scotland’s passenger railways are broadly a £1bn a year business with 26% of revenue coming from passengers and the remainder from tax payers – of whom a minority are also rail users. (This covers just Scotrail operations and excludes cross border services provided by other operators as well as rail freight.)

The consultation document raises the question of what should be the balance between rail users and taxpayers in terms of paying for rail services. The implication being that the present split is not seen as equitable. The recent funding of London’s Crossrail (whilst an infrastructure project) provides an interesting precedent about how rail services might be funded with its a third, a third, a third funding package. That is a third of the money comes from users, a third from businesses and a third from general taxes. The logic behind this funding arrangement is broadly as follows. Passengers obviously benefit from the service so should contribute to it. Businesses (ie employers) in locations served by the rail network benefit from being able to draw upon a larger labour pool to recruit from which reduces wages and improves competitiveness while not having to provide so much car parking. Whilst the general public benefits from a reduced number of cars on the road network, so benefits from less congestion and pollution as well as reducing the need to invest in new road infrastructure.

So what would be the implications of such a funding regime in Scotland? If passengers were to pay a third of the cost of services this would require (all other things being equal) fares to rise by 27%. If we assume that such a funding package were to be phased in over say a five year period this would require annual real fare rises of 2.5% if passenger numbers also grew at 2.5%. This would mean that the present average single fare of £3.30 per single trip would increase to £3.70 in present prices by year 5.

The second source of funding, from businesses, could be  based on the French “versement transport” which is a hypothecated local tax levied on the total gross salaries of employees. In France the rate varies by area and is applicable only to companies of more than nine employees. It is highest in Paris where the rate is 2.6%. To keep it simple in this example we have assumed the levy will be paid by everyone employed in those local authority Districts where at least 4% of the workforce commute to work by rail and that the levy will need to raise £330m a year. Based on the 640,000 people employed in these Districts and average wages within them this would equate to a levy on wages of 1.9%. In the context of France this a high levy especially as it only covers national rail services and few employers benefit from their staff commuting by rail.

The balance of funding would come from general taxpayers and in this third/third/third model would see a reduction in the amount sought per household from £315 per household now down to £140 per household.

The above analysis highlights some of the issues of rail funding in Scotland. It is difficult to see how the “a third, a third, a third funding package” could work given the high level of contribution required from employers in relation to the low number of rail commuters. However, even with considerable above inflation fare increases and assumed growth in rail patronage it is difficult to see passenger revenues covering much more than a third of operating costs.

This suggests, that if the present funding split is not acceptable, the need to identify either new sources of finance or to significantly reduce costs including closures to improve the financial sustainability of Scotland’s passenger rail services.