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A step-change in sustainable urban transport

A step-change in sustainable urban transport

Researchers at the University of Leeds, Manchester and York are conducting a major new study that could help planners make urban travel networks significantly more sustainable by 2050.

The £1.5 million STEP-CHANGE project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to inform a 'step-change' in attitudes to urban transport by revolutionising the planning of towns and cities.   

The researchers will examine and compare the transport practices of individuals and organisations in two UK cities - Leeds and Manchester. By employing a novel combination of methods, the team hope to gain a unique insight into the complex mix of factors which influence people's travel behaviour. They will then consider how planners can make use of this insight to overhaul existing planning paradigms and develop a new generation of tools focused on sustainability. 

Over a four-year period the team will follow a representative sample of households in both cities, engaging with them on a regular basis to investigate how their travel choices are influenced by various interrelated factors such as getting a new job, having children, or moving house.  

Household members will also record and explain the decision-making processes around their daily journeys in a travel diary. The findings will be analysed and set in context by a parallel study of historical records to build up a picture of people's changing use of transport over the past 30 years. 

Principal Investigator Dr Miles Tight, of the University of Leeds Institute for Transport Studies, said: "In order to reach the government's ambitious targets of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, urban transport systems must undergo a massive transformation. 

"A lot of tools that planners currently use tend to support the status quo of a relatively small change in infrastructure and behaviour. What we want to find out is whether there are other tools you can use to promote a large shift towards urban planning that has a far greater emphasis on sustainability." 

Co-Investigator Dr Niamh Moore from the University of Manchester, said: "This kind of research combines a number of novel aspects carried out over several years - an approach that is unprecedented in transport research. 

"In the past, planners have relied on inadequate data and limited models of people's everyday travel. At the end of STEP-CHANGE we will have a much more complex account of people's travel practices than we currently do and, more importantly, we aim to translate these findings to the transport planning world. 

"So novel is the kind of data we will be generating that we do not intend to keep it to ourselves. A key, and unusual step, in this project is the plan to archive the data and make it freely available for others to use, through the Timescapes Archive at the University of Leeds." 

Co-investigator Professor David Watling, also from the University of Leeds, added: "The STEP-CHANGE project is innovative and unique in bringing together social scientists, engineers and mathematicians. 

"Traditional transport research usually involves devising mathematical models based on numerical data, whereas this project will be developing models based on qualitative accounts of people's lives - something that's never been done before.  

"We are hoping that the result will be a much more comprehensive and qualitative picture of what events, actions and behaviours bring about meaningful and sustainable change." 

Co-investigator Professor Mike Savage, FBA, University of York, added: "The plans for a longitudinal qualitative research are at the cutting edge of social science and will attract interest across a number of fields, not just in transport studies."   

STEP-CHANGE is part of the Sustainable Urban Environment SUE programme, a £45m initiative supported by the EPSRC investigating different ways of improving sustainability in the urban environment.  

For more information  

More information about the Timescapes Archive can be found here.

To request an interview with Dr Miles Tight or Professor David Watling, please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

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