Transport trepidation

The long march toward a low carbon future has this week taken another twist with airports at the centre of a government-funded study.

Over the next three years experts from the Universities of Loughborough, Cranfield and Leeds aim to quantify and mitigate the carbon footprint left by people travelling to and from airports.

The cynical among you might question why other large facilities or attractions aren’t targeted by similar studies.

Stonehenge, for example, is a popular tourist draw but actually getting to it requires a good deal of fuel burn.

However, a quick glance at BAA’s website goes some way to put the study into perspective. Heathrow alone employs 72,000 staff and, in 2008, saw 66.9 million passengers pass through it.

With this in mind, the multi-university team will look at the feasibility of setting up audio/video facilities at airports that can link with anyone’s home, reducing the need to travel to airports to see people off; situating luggage-drop facilities in city centres and train stations; and establishing web/mobile-based information-sharing services that promote car-sharing among airport users.

Going back to Heathrow, it might be worth assessing the rail options available to travellers and airport staff alike.

Taking the Piccadilly Line from central London to the airport is a cheap option but, as many of you will know, it is also an exercise in abject hate-filled misery at peak times. Packing your luggage, family and friends into an already overcrowded carriage is not many people’s idea of fun.

Alternatively, one could make the journey to Heathrow via the Heathrow Express. What a difference! The service is fast (the journey takes 15 minutes) and frequent (four trains run every hour) and is rarely, if ever, overcrowded or uncomfortable. This, however, might be something to do with the fact that an Express class return ticket costs £32. At £2.13 per minute travelled, this is not a budget option.

There is, however, a minicab company close to where I live in north west London that will take me door-to-door for £25, leaving me unflustered and relaxed on my arrival – at the expense of a hefty carbon footprint.

The academics have quite a job on their hands, but they do have one eye very firmly on the practicalities of implementing change.

‘There’s no point developing and implementing a carbon-reduction measure if it won’t work in the real world – perhaps because it involves people paying more than they’re prepared to pay,’ said project leader Dr Tim Ryley of Loughborough University. ‘So developing a realistic understanding of attitudes and motivations with respect to people’s environmental behaviour will be key to delivering a practical set of recommendations.’