For this roundtable event, the last in a series of collaborations between KPMG and the CBI, we brought together a number of leading transport industry experts, large employers, and important stakeholders for a robust discussion about some of the challenges in decarbonising commuting, the need for continued investment in public transport, modal shift and the better use of data. There was a particular focus on active travel, noting the recent ambitious objective from the Government of half of town and city journeys being walked or cycled by 2030.
Important to the discussion was the role that business has to play as we move into the new normal of the post-Covid world – the world of hybrid working. Participants were clear that the changes wrought by the pandemic present a fantastic opportunity to change the way that things have always been done and that businesses large and small need to be the leaders of this change. Participants agreed that the time for urgent and dramatic action is now and that the determination to implement change must be resolute.
KPMG and the CBI are delighted to present this summary of the discussion, as well as our key recommendations for moving forward with the important work on Commute Zero.
Discussion area 1: Creating incentives to ensure public transport and active travel are the commuting preferences of the future
- Businesses large and small should undertake surveys of their employees to find out how they commute, and how they could be incentivised to commute differently and develop action plans to put such incentives in place
Participants agreed that data fundamentally underpins the challenge of Commute Zero. Analysing data supports understanding the scale of the challenge as well as understanding the incentives that will make a real difference. In some cases, incentives are as little as ensuring adequate shower and bike storage facilities are always available onsite. Participants shared data suggesting that many could be easily incentivised to switch to lower carbon modes of travel such as lift sharing, public transport, and cycling and walking.
Participants also agreed that it is likely SMEs will have fewer resources available to provide incentives to support their employees in tackling the climate crisis. Larger businesses can provide help to support SMEs in this process, both in terms of data gathering but also through sharing best practices.
Furthermore, participants cited the example of countries such as Italy and the Netherlands that have recently taken the lead in requiring businesses to gather data on their employees’ travel patterns.
- Government and industry must work together to undertake a fundamental and wholesale review of fares and ticketing, to make public transport a more competitive option
A car-led recovery from the pandemic was agreed by participants to be a poor outcome, given existing challenges of road space and the need to decarbonise. Ultimately, even if all cars on UK roads were electric, the problem of congestion would remain and potentially increase. Participants agreed that people must therefore be incentivised to use public transportation and that a key means of achieving this would be through more competitively priced fares, as well as the rollout of simpler fare options across the UK, including Pay-as-You-Go and digital ticketing.
Equally, participants agreed that issues of road space and congestion will remain difficult to solve without increased use of public transport, and without the investment that making public transport more competitive will require.
- Government should consider how tax incentives can be used to encourage alternative commuting behaviours
Participants noted that some European countries have started using the taxation system to incentivise greener commuting behaviours. Participants believe that the government should consider studying how financial incentives, potentially through the tax system, could be used to encourage behavioural change, including encouraging more shared commutes and the greater uptake of company EVs. (For more on removing tax barriers to encourage more shared commutes using company EVs, see the CBI/KPMG report Greener Miles)
- Businesses should consider how to incentivise alternative behaviours, by adapting company car schemes, cycle-to-work schemes and season ticket loans, and removing incentives to drive
Participants noted that some employee perks, especially company car schemes, have had the result of incentivising car usage, rather than public transport and greener forms of travel.
Participants agreed that where cars will remain a necessary part of business travel, the greenest options should be prioritised, with car clubs and other forms of car rental favoured over the requirement to own a vehicle for business use.
Discussion area 2: Ensuring continued investment in the transport network, even without a return to the 5-day-week, peak time travel of pre-pandemic
- Government should set out a long-term plan for investment in transport infrastructure, including transitioning to electric buses and wider electrification of rail
Participants agreed that regardless of a return to pre-pandemic levels of commuting, there needs to be a continued investment in public transport. Participants noted this can take many years to plan and deliver, and effective public transport is vital to commuting across the UK. (For more, see CBI/KPMG report Connecting Communities)
As part of this, there should be an ambition to make public transport greener, and this should be supported by a substantial programme supporting a shift to electrification. This includes wider adoption of zero-emission buses as well as rail electrification.
Participants noted that bringing forward the already committed funding for Zero-Emission Buses would support the transition to green commutes. Furthermore, participants agreed that as rail is already a proven low-carbon form of travel, it should form a core part of any net zero transport system. This means investment in a stronger, more electrified railway, a move that participants agreed would benefit both passenger and freight services and drive a long-term modal shift.
Longer-term commitments to the electrification of public transport will give confidence and certainty to operators, local government, infrastructure investors and construction companies, thus ensuring more effective project delivery. It also helps businesses to make the correct investment decisions and support their employees in choosing greener commuting options moving forward.
- The industry should work closely with the government to influence behavioural change
Participants agreed that working closely with the government to influence behavioural change was a key priority for the industry. Participants suggested that the rollout of electric charging infrastructure across the country will be vital to smoothing the EV transition and affecting consumer behaviour and emphasised the need to make changes to consumer behaviour as simple as possible.
Participants agreed that investment in EV charging infrastructure, already committed to by the government, remains a priority, regardless of the changing commuter patterns. However, participants were also clear that changing commuter patterns mean that continued discussions about how road space is best used will be vital. Participants also agreed that businesses will need to continue to invest in EV charging infrastructure at workplaces to support people who will need to charge while working.
Finally, while participants agreed that the transition to EVs was a fundamental part of greener commutes, behavioural change to support more walking and cycling, as outlined in the first discussion area, is also critical.
- Businesses should continue to seek to maximise the advantage of government schemes for workplace charging infrastructure, and establish roadmaps for transitioning company car fleets to electric
Participants noted that in some cases, a company car will remain a fundamental part of their operations. Participants agreed that taking advantage of workplace charging schemes and setting out plans for how the company car fleet will transition away from internal combustion engine models, will allow the necessity of the company car to be an opportunity to proactively reduce emissions.
Discussion area 3: Avoiding the creation of a two-tier economy, where neither on-site or remote employees are disadvantaged
- Businesses operating primarily on-site roles should use commuting incentives to minimise the potential disparity between the benefits of on-site vs. remote working
Participants operating in sectors primarily based on-site expressed concern about their future ability to recruit and retain talent, in a world where many are able to work from home and will wish to choose that as an option.
Participants agreed that coordinated policies that make the commute an easier, cleaner, and greener experience will help to reduce the concern of on-site employees and prevent the commute from being a factor in their decision of whether to take a role primarily based on-site.
Equally, participants agreed that businesses with a large on-site focus must carefully evaluate the decisions they make in terms of site location and avoid choosing sites that will require a large portion of their workforce to commute via higher carbon modes.
- Government should review its tax and benefit-in-kind policies to ensure that those working on-site are not disadvantaged by the rise of remote working
As outlined in the 2021 Greener Miles report, participants agreed that government should review all road tax and benefit-in-kind policies to ensure that as the EV transition accelerates, tax policies are effectively incentivising the take-up of cleaner vehicles and providing businesses with greater opportunity to transition their fleets away from petrol and diesel vehicles. One step should include reducing any benefit-in-kind tax on private journeys that are zero-emission (including commuting) to 0 per cent. This will help to incentivise the greater take up of zero-emission vehicles as company cars and enable employers to offer shared vehicles for commuting purposes.