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Getting to the airport: nudging choice is a challenge!

As air travel grows, how passengers choose to get to the airport is becoming more important for both air quality and congestion reasons. The pressure is one. We all choose which way to travel by weighing up the choice, control, cost and convenience various options present. Most people choose car – either their own, a lift or a taxi to get to the airport. Heathrow’s share of public transport access has dropped for the first time and the airport is actively considering an access charge for all other road vehicles.

Two of my colleagues are speaking at conferences this week on this issue: David Sidebottom, our director, spoke at the Manchester Air Transport Forum.  Employing 24,000 people, Manchester Airport, has set itself challenging targets to move more of their employees, as well as passengers, to/from the airport by more sustainable forms of transport over the next few years. A lot of collaboration is needed between rail, tram, bus and coach operators to eat away at the share of private cars that park or drop off/pick up at this transport hub. Jordan Sargeant, one of our stakeholder managers is also speaking at the International Rail Air Organisation conference. You can review the slides they are using as the basis for their remarks.  

These presentations are largely based on Getting to and from the airport – is coa​​​​ch an option? a recent report from Transport Focus carried out with Heathrow Airport and the Department for Transport that examined attitudes to coach travel when trying to access  airports.

This report makes for an interesting read: For those who choose coach it seems a sensible, savvy option that users really like. The quality of coach services has also dramatically improved in what is now a highly competitive industry using impressive, modern vehicles which offer a degree of disabled access too.

Yet, for most air passengers, getting to the airport by coach is not considered even as an option – it still has a stigma; it is for ‘other people’. Car, taxi/private hire and train continue to dominate, and most people use the same mode every time.

Ramping up rail access is slow and expensive, so persuading more people to choose another non car-based option is vital.

Transport Focus has published a five point plan which calls for government, industry and trade bodies to work to improve the public’s perception of  travel by coach and to increase its usage.

None of us like being simply told what to do! Nudging people towards coach or other options may not be easy and will take time. But it needs to be done – by talking to consumers and by researching to identify what kind of incentives might make a difference.

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