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Travel plans as policy tools

Review how travel plans can influence transport users’ attitudes and habits to achieve more sustainable patterns of mobility behaviour.
© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility

In this step, we’ll review how property-based, or company-based, travel plans can influence transport users’ attitudes and habits to achieve more sustainable patterns of mobility behaviour.

Baker Street Station in the UK’s Underground. mattbuck (category), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In recent years, many jurisdictions have mandated that large companies and property developers provide Travel Plans to mitigate the impact of their operations, staff and residents on traffic levels and emissions. Typically, such plans employ a mixture of incentives (‘carrots’) to promote alternatives to car use, and disincentives (‘sticks’) against the use of single-occupant vehicles and sometimes excessive car ownership.

The UK Government’s policy framework for reduced car use implicitly addressed travel behaviour within its Travel Plan strategy. However, the mechanisms included appear to have had limited success among private companies.

Although this plan was developed to provide long-term strategies for sustainable travel, the focus was on motivating the behaviours of individuals – such as promoting walking and cycling – which has limited relevance to the commercial sector.

Attempts to green commutes

Policies developed to encourage the commercial sector to commute in a ‘greener’ way sought to stimulate behavioural change through the following four mechanisms:

  • information
  • regulation
  • subsidies
  • fiscal system.


Guides and an extensive publicity campaign were rolled out to promote the idea that the government’s travel plans would be beneficial to the private sector.

While there is general agreement that access to information is important, the benefits of the Travel Plan failed to take root. Research has shown that companies only tend to listen when other reasons force the issue of how to get staff to work, like congestion or a lack of parking space.


Theoretically, regulation works through planning agreements that aim to ensure that new developments over a certain size develop a Travel Plan to reduce the proportion of trips made by a single occupant car.

In practice, regulation is limited only to where permission is required to develop a new or existing site. This means it is often suburban and city-edge sites that are required to implement Travel Plans and not necessarily companies in areas of greatest need.


The UK Government also introduced incentives through a public subsidy. Here, two smaller measures were introduced through the Travel Plans:

  • a grant from the Department of Transport, Local Government, and the Regions of bursaries to pay for Travel Coordinators
  • a project to provide expert consultation for some companies embarking on the process of introducing the plan.

However, both were rolled out on a limited scale and could be perceived as add-ons to the information arm of the approach, as opposed to a subsidy policy itself.

Fiscal system

Tax incentives were offered as instruments to encourage greener modes of travel and included:

  • work buses of 12 or more seats
  • subsidies to public bus services
  • workplace parking for bicycles and motorcycles
  • alternative transport for car sharers to get home in exceptional circumstances.

Although some tax disincentives have been removed from the Travel Plans, the fiscal system has yet to provide any real benefits to encourage employers to take it seriously.

Travel Plan of new apartment development

Theoretically, the Travel Plans can deliver results, however, the lack of consistent targeted regulation and fiscal measures has hampered its widespread adoption. In Melbourne, RMIT University researcher Chris de Gruyter investigated the (then voluntary) Travel Plan program of new apartment development in the inner city.

He and his team found that residents of buildings with a Travel Plan commonly provided:

  • car sharing options
  • less car parking
  • more bike parking
  • sometimes free or discounted public transport passes.

Residents were less likely to use their cars, and owned less of them. People already disposed to travelling more sustainably were shown to be more attracted to developments with Travel Plans, as they better supported their pre-existing lifestyle choices. There is thus an element of self-selection in the process.

Further resources

If you would like to explore some of the concepts we have covered in more detail, the following resources are optional.

Research on cars, parking, & travel planning in Melbourne apartment buildings: With Chris De Gruyter

The Nature of Transport Policy.

Land Use Policy, Travel Behavior, and Health.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility
This article is from the free online

Changing Urban Travel Behaviour for a Low-Carbon Transition

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