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Green Commuter Plans - Do They Work? - Research Findings

DescriptionThis research involved an 18 month study of the implementation of GCPs, of barriers to their development, and of their impact on modal shift.
ISBN1 84268 044 7
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateNovember 09, 2000
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No. 95Green Commuter Plans - Do They Work?

Napier University, Transport Research Institute

A Green Commuter Plan (GCP) is a package of measures implemented by employers to reduce the proportion of their staff driving alone to, from and at work. They are now better known as Travel Plans and are an important aspect of transport policy to expand transport choices, especially for commuting journeys. GCPs remain a novel concept and throughout the UK there have been almost no longitudinal studies of their implementation and effects. In 1998 the Scottish Office commissioned Napier University's Transport Research Institute to carry out an 18 month study of the implementation of GCPs, of barriers to their development, and of their impact on modal shift. Three case study sites were chosen to reflect different stages of GCP implementation: Kirkton Campus, Livingston; The Gyle/New Edinburgh Park, Edinburgh and Hewlett Packard, South Queensferry.

Main findings

  • GCPs can work and make a significant contribution to modal shift at the site level. At the local road network level, however, the impact is much less clear.

  • Over the timescale of the project, at two of the case study organisations, Hewlett Packard and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the proportion of staff driving alone to work fell by some 6% and 10% respectively. This was the result of a GCP.

  • GCPs are shown to be successful when:

    • A site specific problem with congestion, parking and/or transport-related staff recruitment exists.

    • A supportive organisational culture is present.

    • Staff are dedicated to running the GCP within the organisation.

    • Joint working between organisations is used to lobby public transport operators.

    • GCP measures in the form of incentives and disincentives are combined - such as public transport ticket discounts with restricted on-site parking - to help achieve a large modal shift.

  • The biggest barrier to a successful GCP is the lack of a site specific problem. If 100% of staff drive alone to work but there is no site specific parking, congestion or recruitment problem then the employer is unlikely to devote resources to changing the situation. Policy makers must therefore decide whether or not they wish to "create such conditions" through the use of the planning or local taxation system.

  • Other barriers to GCPs can be overcome by skilful marketing of alternative modes of transport and by careful presentation of the GCP so that it gains internal political support.

  • The introduction of GCPs may never have been needed, had all large employers been able and willing to locate in areas well-served by public transport and where there is limited parking; in this sense a GCP may be treating the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem.


The main methodologies used for the work were:

  • Travel surveys, to establish baseline travel patterns and, at Hewlett Packard (HP), to measure changes resulting from a GCP.

  • Panel interviews and surveys with a small group of staff at selected organisations, to obtain more information on travel behaviour and attitudes to GCPs, and how these changed during the lifetime of the project.

  • Focus groups.

  • Structured interviews with key management staff to understand organisational attitudes to GCPs.

  • Stated preference work at HP, to understand how staff might react, were additional GCP measures to be introduced.

Findings from individual case study sites

Hewlett Packard

Located in a small town 8 miles outside Edinburgh, employing 1,500 people, 59% of whom commute by car alone. Road access is good, however the adjacent Forth Road Bridge is congested at peak times; rail access is good to central Edinburgh and Fife but bus access is poor. Parking and on-site congestion are the main problems to be addressed.

This large free-standing telecommunications and electronics research and manufacturing company implemented its GCP for a number of reasons:

  • General environmental concerns and social responsibility, which are important aspects of its corporate culture.

  • Specific health and safety concerns regarding the site car park circulation and capacity, particularly in the context of a large increase in employee numbers in 1996-7 and again in 2000.

  • To reduce the risk of overspill parking on local streets.

  • To offer employees greater choice of modes of transport to work.

The main components of its GCP are relatively low cost and low intervention:

  • Cycle parking, showers and lockers.

  • Preferential reserved parking spaces for carsharers with 3 or more people in the team, and a carshare database to promote carpool formation.

  • A discount of up to 40% on rail season tickets to the adjacent rail station, negotiated with and paid for by train operator ScotRail.

  • Promotion of and information about alternative modes.

  • The phasing out of company perk cars and their replacement with clean-fuelled pool vehicles.

  • A member of staff able to spend time regularly on monitoring and maintaining the GCP.

Interviews with senior management indicated that they were happy to maintain the level of resources accorded to GCP measures, but that further resources would be unlikely to be committed unless legislation or other external changes require them.

A staff travel survey carried out in 1997 when GCP measures were introduced and replicated in 1999 found a statistically significant modal shift: the proportion of staff driving alone fell from 65% to 59% due to an increase in rail use from 8% to 14%. The proportion of staff carsharing also fell. A stated preference survey relating to potential GCP measures found that those combining disincentives to car use and incentives for carsharing and public transport could encourage another 25% of staff to convert from drive alone mode.

Kirkton Campus

Located 1.5 miles outside Livingston Town Centre in West Lothian, this campus development houses some 50 companies who employ 8,000 people, 64% of whom commute alone by car. There are currently no on-campus transport problems apart from some peak hour congestion. Road access is excellent whilst bus and rail are poor. No Green Commuter Plan is in place.

Green commuting initiatives are being stimulated by West Lothian Council, concerned that increasing congestion could compromise the economic success of this business park. Initial awareness raising of GCPs amongst firms in the area was carried out and a Kirkton Campus Green Commuting Forum, facilitated by the local Chamber of Commerce, was formed and met four times. Attendance by companies was very poor after the first meeting. Organisations did not appear ready to contribute to the initiative, nor to work together on transport issues.

Later interviews and focus groups in selected companies revealed a poor perception of local public transport services, and low organisational priority attached to staff travel because it was not perceived to cause operational problems, at least by management. Where staff do not have a car available, they carshare instead. Local congestion was seen to be caused mainly by staff at B.Sky.B, by far the largest employer in the area.

While initiatives on public transport information and new bus services continue in the campus, the majority of the employers there do not perceive a problem and so have not implemented GCPs.

Gyle/New Edinburgh Park

An industrial estate and business park on the western edge of Edinburgh, where 20 companies employ 12,000 people, 72% commute alone by car. Road access is of a high standard, but congested, and the main problems on site relate to this. Rail and bus access is generally good but not to and from all destinations. Not all companies have a GCP in place.

Employers have worked jointly on GCPs during the lifetime of the project, and in May 2000 were continuing to do so. Individual employers and, in New Edinburgh Park, the management company, also worked individually on their own transport initiatives. Levels of GCP activity appeared to be closely linked to the seriousness of the problem experienced at individual organisations, but at the same time, genuine joint working occurred, for example:

  • Data gathering/sharing.
  • Lobbying public transport providers, resulting in much improved services to the City Centre.
  • Lobbying the local Council for better parking control.
  • Meeting together.

Individual employers' GCPs included or have included:

  • Discount bus tickets and public transport promotion.
  • Car-sharing and (at one employer) linked parking management.
  • Cycle facilities.
  • Company bus services.

The Gyle/New Edinburgh Park case study shows that joint working on GCPs can have some effect but that organisations with a problem will continue to work alone even if there is no joint action. A management company can be particularly effective in working on GCPs on behalf of companies.


The project has shown that GCPs can achieve modal shift, but that their effectiveness is closely related to site specific issues, as well as to the culture of the organisation implementing the commuter plan.

A number of policy recommendations stem from the research, as follows:

  • Policy makers should be realistic about the level of modal split that can be achieved by GCPs, and about the numbers of organisations likely to adopt them. Organisations with an existing problem should be targeted for advice and assistance.

  • With careful and co-ordinated land-use and transport planning, the problems that cause organisations to develop GCPs may not occur.

  • GCP successes should be well-publicised to the Public Transport industry, since there is still some scepticism about GCPs amongst operators.

Further research needs to address the network effects of GCPs and, most importantly, the legality and feasibility of "creating such conditions" by requiring GCPs in new development, through the planning process.

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