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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 October 2007, 17:10 GMT
Personal transport plans trialled
By Tom Symonds
Transport correspondent, BBC News

A nationwide brigade of personal transport advisers who call at the homes of drivers thinking of switching to greener forms of travel could help break Britain's dependency on the car.

Bicycles chained in the street in Peterborough
The team encouraged Peterborough motorists to cycle

The idea is among those being mulled by the government in a major new strategy aimed at cutting carbon emissions.

The advisers are already pounding the streets of three trial cities.

In Peterborough, 750,000 has been spent on giving 20,000 people personal advice to help them use public transport or cycle.

Practical advice

The idea is that many people are receptive to suggestions they could travel more greenly but simply don't know how.

One of the advisers, Steve Lockwood says: "Not everyone is going to change and start using sustainable transport but going round within the community we find there are a lot of people thinking about it and it is those people we are interested in.

"What Travel Smart provides is the next step - information and enthusiasm from our team."

The information includes reams of maps, timetables and practical advice.

Relatively cheap

There is no cold calling, the visits are pre-arranged. Steve drops in on Mike Powell who already uses the bus to get work, and his bike at weekends.

But was Mr Powell aware of a major new cycle route through the city? He wasn't, but now has a new cycle map to show him the way.

The government is interested in personal travel plans for two reasons. They are relatively cheap and they do seem to have an impact. Peterborough is reporting a 10% drop in car use among those contacted by the team.

The new strategy emphasises the need to change the travel behaviour of millions of people if the target of cutting emissions by 60% in this half of the century is to be achieved.

Of course simply stopping people from travelling as much would have the same effect but government acknowledges that this could damage the economy.

Crowded transport

London to Glasgow Virgin Pendolino train
London to Glasgow trains are becoming increasingly crowded

Similarly the Stern report warned that a failure to tackle climate change itself could have economic consequences.

So ministers have earmarked around 20bn of long term funding to improve crowded transport networks by 2019.

On the railways the pressure is already building. The main London to Glasgow line has been expensively upgraded but already the trains are getting full and there is no more room on the tracks to run extra services.

The strategy suggests a new high speed rail line from London at least as far as Birmingham may be needed, though more improvements to existing tracks are also being considered.

Congestion charging

Motorway widening is already going ahead. The government will follow the advice of the former British Airways boss Rod Eddington who said in a report last year the priority must be to remove bottlenecks from the network.

The controversial proposal to introduce charges to drive at peak times is another big idea being actively pursued. The first tolls will be introduced in busy city centres.

Manchester is a front-runner to be the second congestion charging area in Britain after London.

But when it comes to the fastest growing source of carbon emissions - air travel - there remains a standoff between the government, which believes restricting growth will restrict the economy, and environmentalists who argue it is vital if climate change is to be tackled.

This is just the strategy document before a green paper, which will in turn be followed by a white paper.

In government, and in particular in the area of transport, change is a long time coming.

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