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Paving the way for smarter travel

The DfT’s 2007 guide to personal travel planning has proven to be an influential publication

Jon Parker, director of Integrated Transport Planning Limited (ITP)
The friendly face of the URS travel advisors working on behalf of Leicestershire County Council
The friendly face of the URS travel advisors working on behalf of Leicestershire County Council


In 2007/08 I was fortunate to lead a dedicated research team* that undertook a major study on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) examining the mechanics and impacts associated with household-based personal travel planning (PTP) programmes.

The study examined in detail 15 PTP case studies from across the UK and Australia, along with a broader international literature review. The study culminated in the publication of a full research report and practitioner’s guide (entitled Making PTP Work), which has subsequently been used to help guide many of the LSTF funded PTP programmes that are currently being delivered.

Back in 2007, a key aim of the research was to understand whether PTP was effective in influencing travel behaviour, and if so, to better understand the PTP process, and enable more local authorities to deliver/commission PTP programmes in different ways. This article takes a look at what has been happening in the world of PTP since the research, and whether the 2008 Making PTP Work guidance has helped to change the shape of PTP delivery across the UK.

Comparison: 2007 and 2013

At the time of conducting our original research the broad geography of UK PTP schemes was limited to a few locations, largely driven by places that had been successful in securing central government funding to deliver pilot programmes. At that time there was general consistency on the reported success of these schemes, typically reporting to have reduced car driver trips by between 9% and 11%. This is shown in Figure 1. 

What has happened since?

Since the publication of Making PTP Work there has been significant growth and diversity in the delivery and reported outcomes of household PTP programmes across the UK, including most notably:

  • Full reporting of the findings of the three Sustainable Travel Towns, which included an analysis of the final phases of the PTP programmes (the 2007 research examined the interim phases).
  • Scottish Government-funded PTP programmes have been delivered across seven towns/cities in Scotland (as part of the Smarter Choices Smarter Places Programme), and the final project evaluation reports have now been published. 
  • LSTF projects have been funded and are currently being delivered. Our internal review of the 39 ‘Tranche 1’ projects showed that 31 of these included large-scale household PTP and workplace PTP programmes, demonstrating the growing importance of PTP within the suite of smarter choices measures.
  • Local authorities (and private developers) have been delivering their own large scale programmes. 

What does this mean for the distribution of PTP across the UK?

Has the market changed?

There have been a number of new commercial organisations and local authorities that are delivering PTP using their own adapted processes. In this respect it would appear that the Making PTP Work practitioner’s guide has played an important role in helping to better understand the PTP process, and the benefits that PTP can deliver. 

New approaches to PTP delivery include:

  • Community Hubs: Delivering personal advice through new social enterprises and community groups, and engaging individuals through trusted local networks.
  • PTP Challenges: Building new concepts, ideas, pledges, rewards, self-monitoring of behaviour and stated intentions into the PTP process to seek to secure stronger long-term outcomes. 
  • New innovation: The use of new technology, including the testing of mobile tablets to record data and distribute materials, and for example, the launch of MyPTP, developed by Liftshare, which provides an automated and electronic personal journey planning tool.
  • Lighter touch PTP: Delivering PTP on a budget.
  • Workplace and Education PTP: Redeploying the techniques developed for residential schemes within employment and education sites.

So what does this mean?

The PTP market appears to have been significantly enhanced (in both scale and diversity) as a result of Making PTP Work; we at ITP are very proud of this. We believe this demonstrates the importance of sharing knowledge and experience through appropriately focussed research. 

The PTP market is now much more mature and diverse than it was when the original research was carried out in 2007. However, it also means we need to continue to better understand the long term impacts of PTP, and to answer some of the remaining unanswered questions, such as:

  • What is the longevity of impacts? We still know relatively little about the impact of PTP interventions 2, 3, 4 and 5 years post implementation, which can only be gained by carrying out further longitudinal surveys across PTP programme areas.
  • What is the impact of technology on PTP programmes? We are still heavily reliant on paper materials, and further research is required to understand the behavioural response of new emerging technologies within PTP programmes. 
  • How do we best create a legacy from PTP projects? There are few examples of PTP programmes becoming embedded within the transport delivery teams across local authorities, or indeed across different service sectors. 
  • What are the wider impacts: economy, carbon, health? PTP delivery and evaluation tends to focus on a narrow set of indicators, and hence it is often not possible to properly reflect the wider impacts on society (and indeed we may not be maximising these impacts by restricting advice solely on transport matters). 
  • Is it a small number of people making large changes to behaviour or a large number of people making small nudge style changes to behaviour that contributes most to reported outcomes? This can only be addressed through longitudinal panel surveys of behaviour, with most PTP evaluation studies focussing to date on randomly drawn independent before/after samples of the targeted population. 
  • What people (market segments) are most likely to be influenced by PTP? We still know relatively little about the ways in which we can improve the delivery of PTP materials to make better use of our knowledge on population segments.
  • How important is a good local sustainable transport network in securing outcomes through PTP? In 2007 it appeared as if PTP works in almost all community areas (excluding transient populations) and now there is more experience of PTP, it would be helpful to know if this is still the case, or whether we can deduce more about the relationship between the effectiveness of PTP in areas with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ levels of sustainable transport accessibility. 

These questions could be answered by a combination of an update to the 2007 findings alongside fresh primary research and evaluation for major PTP programmes.

Future performance

Having spent 18 months seeking to understand every detail of the PTP process back in 2007/08 (and seen the exceptional efforts of all members of the Making PTP Work research team to dissect the evidence base underpinning the various case studies we examined) it is heart-warming to know that the research findings and practitioners guide have proved valuable in helping people to better navigate and understand how to deliver effective PTP programmes. 

It’s particularly rewarding to know that the findings of research can be appropriately applied to improve future project performance, and I look forward to the next opportunity to examine if, how and why PTP programmes influence behaviour.  

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