Blog Post

What can local authorities do to meet London’s sustainable transport needs?

Millie Mitchell sets out the key asks for local authorities from our transport programme, Moving with the Times.

London is facing major transport challenges. Patterns of how people live, work and commute in the city are changing. Meanwhile, London urgently needs to improve its air quality and achieve net zero. National government, the GLA and local authorities all have a vital role to play in this.

Many local authorities across London are already taking action to support sustainable transport, but there are things we’d like to see local authorities doing more of.  Encouraging active travel, supporting shared transport modes, utilising financial incentives and communicating clearly about transport change will all ensure local authorities lead the sustainable transport shift.

Encourage active travel

We know that active travel, which is when someone makes a journey by walking, cycling or wheeling, offers an abundance of benefits.

  • Benefits for the individual – who can improve their physical and mental health.
  • Benefits for the environment – as these modes typically have very low (or zero) carbon footprints and air pollution impacts.
  • And benefits for local businesses – as walkers are more likely to stop and spend more in a local shop than drivers are.

In outer London, we want to see local authorities building more cycle lanes. In particular, travellers need safe and segregated cycle lanes for local journeys with leisure and family purposes, not just following ‘commuter’ routes.

Beyond cycling, it’s also important that local authorities work to improve the quality of the walking environment.

Keeping streets accessible and clear of clutter is key – 74 per cent of people surveyed in England say that ‘well-maintained pavements (even, clean, uncluttered, well-lit)’ would encourage them to walk more. Local authorities in London can do this by carrying out street clutter assessments and removing poorly located, redundant or damaged street furniture. More detailed recommendations on how they can do this will be published in our report next month.

Support shared transport

Shared transport is an umbrella term that refers to a model of transport where typically ‘private’ vehicles are instead shared, for example, rentable bikes like Santander cycles, e-scooters, or car rental and car clubs.

Shared transport is considered a more sustainable form of transport because individuals share the resource more efficiently and because these models can help reduce private car ownership.

Whilst shared transport schemes exist across London, they are most densely concentrated in inner London – this is particularly true of rentable bikes and e-scooters. Access to shared transport vehicles nearby is important for people to consider them as a convenient transport method.

Local authorities can play a vital role in supporting shared transport. This might look like:

  • Creating space: Committing to finding on-street space for shared micromobility schemes, and car club vehicles – even if this means reallocating some space away from parking private cars. In new developments in outer London, space for shared vehicles could be provided by default.
  • Increasing awareness: Sharing information about alternatives to private car ownership when residents renew their parking permits with their local authority, or register for council tax. This could include raising awareness of the costs associated with private car ownership and potential savings that could be met through shared modes.
  • Encouraging service expansion to new areas: for example, by temporarily reducing fees for operators to increase coverage of shared modes in areas with lower population density, to ensure all residents can access shared modes.
  • Working together: Local authorities could work together to jointly procure shared services, which could result in a more consistent delivery of these modes for both providers and users.

Make use of financial incentives

Financial incentives can be a powerful lever for encouraging behaviour change – our second report looked at this in detail. While many of the policies impacting travel cost come from central and mayoral government, local authorities can also use cost as a policy tool.

For example, local authorities can use their parking permits to discourage ownership of highly polluting cars by introducing emissions grading. The more granular and steep the bands, the greater the incentive is for residents to change their cars to less emitting alternatives.

But financial measures work best as part of a package. Local authorities should consider what ‘carrots’ they can partner with financial ‘sticks’.

One major barrier to cycling is a lack of a safe and secure place to store their bike. Most local authorities in London offer on-street cycle hangars as a solution to this, but these are in short supply and options can be expensive – especially for families who need to store multiple bikes.

We’d like to see more local authorities following Lambeth’s lead and reduce the cost of cycle parking below the cost of their parking permits. Local authorities could also go further, by offering reduced rates for households on Universal Credit, who are most likely to find this cost a barrier.

Bring people with you as you create change

Finally, local authorities can help generate support for sustainable travel in local communities. Focussing on clear messaging about why schemes are being introduced, the benefits they can have for local children and families and what’s worked in the area before can all help make the case for change.

But it is key that local authorities listen to people’s concerns and opinions by engaging with them, especially those less likely to use sustainable modes of transport. This is particularly important when introducing new transport schemes, where early and comprehensive engagement will improve both public trust and the quality of schemes.

Making real change

By taking these actions, local authorities can make a real impact on meeting London’s future transport needs. The result? A city that is healthier, more sustainable, more active and more connected.

But local authorities are just one part of the puzzle. Without sufficient funding for sustainable travel projects, local authorities can only do so much. National government and the Mayor of London also need to play their part, by funding local authorities and by taking action themselves.

To find out more about our other transport recommendations directed at the government and Mayor of London, read our two-page summary here.

Millie Mitchell is Senior Researcher at Centre for London.