[rescue_column size=”one-half” position=”first”]Local lens

Everyone who lives or works in Oxfordshire knows that transport is a nightmare. Partly a symptom of local success, partly caused by the historic road layout, congestion at peak times makes commuting a daily misery. We need to tackle transport on many levels to deal with this intractable and complex issue.

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  • 17,000 vehicles cross Folly Bridge every day; 40,000 people commute into Oxford daily, mostly by car, with these numbers set to rise.
  • A shortage of affordable housing near Oxford compounds the traffic congestion by increasing the number of commuters.
  • Transport is the highest CO2 emitter in the county and a cause of serious air pollution (a hot topic in its own right).

Local government is working towards improving the situation, and public consultation on the county’s updated transport strategy, Connecting Oxfordshire, ended on 2 April.

The strategy introduces ideas new to Oxford such as mass transit (both rail and bus) and a hierarchy of cycle routes. There are plans to reduce car travel by a combination of carrot and stick initiatives, such as improving ring-road and Park and Ride capacity while increasing parking charges in the city centre.

Slotting into this strategy will be a range of innovative technologies developed by Oxford researchers and entrepreneurs. The Oxfordshire Low Carbon Economy report identified transport as one of three sectors in which the local area has research-capacity and early-adopter advantages.

Mobility Oxford, MobOx, is developing a feasibility study for integrated transport in Oxford – essentially ‘mobility as a service’. Phase 2 of this ‘living laboratory’ is going ahead now, and the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit is one of the six partners.



The University at work – some examples

The University’s Transport Studies Unit (TSU) and Energy and Power Group (EPG) are both heavily involved in relevant research, including involvement in MobOx.

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Sustainability underlies much of the work of the TSU. With research covering four overlapping themes – Energy and Environment, Governance and Public Policy, Culture and Society, and Health and Wellbeing – the Unit undertakes interdisciplinary work with an eye firmly on the future. As one of the MobOx partners, the TSU is heavily involved in MobOx phase 2, particularly the social science aspects of transport planning – how do we change the habits of a lifetime and reduce our reliance on the internal combustion engine?

Transport is a topic that impacts on all of us and it substantially influences the way in which we see the world and interact with it. Transport is also of great importance to economic wellbeing and the social participation of individuals and communities, in particular in mixed-use, urban areas such as Oxford.”

David Banister, outgoing Director and Professor of Transport Studies



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The EPG in the Department of Engineering Science is researching sustainable energy, with particular focus on smart energy systems, energy storage, transport and electrical machines. It has a strong record of commercialising research activity – Yasa Motors and Zeta Automotive have emerged as spinout companies from this research.

[MobOx] …can enable the City of Oxford to pioneer an exciting integrated mobility system that improves the experience of travelling into the City and reduces the net carbon footprint.”

Malcolm McCulloch, Head of the Energy and Power Group


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Low-emission vehicles – LEVs or electric cars – offer a tantalizing glimpse of a cleaner future, if batteries can be made smaller and lighter, and if electric motors can become stronger.
Oxford is one of a dozen cities shortlisted to become international beacons of ultra-low emission vehicle use and receive part of the £65 million funding set aside for this purpose. The University’s Transport Studies Unit is working with the city council to develop more detailed proposals that maximise the potential for air quality improvements.

PEGGIE is a battery electric sports car, developed by a team of engineers from the Oxford Martin Institute for Carbon and Energy Reduction in Transport  (which was active until 2013) and the Engineering Department.


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The Mobile Robotics Group at the University is working on ‘autonomous personal transport’ – cars that can drive themselves and interact with other road users. In the long term this could save people time, reduce emissions and makes roads safer. A commercial spinout, Oxbotica, has already emerged.

 “This is an exciting joint project between the University of Oxford and BAE Systems. It is great for us to be able to offer Wildcat as a test-bed for the University of Oxford and we look forward to seeing the results over the coming years.

James Baker, BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre


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The Transport Studies Unit’s David Bonilla has been working on the issues surrounding freight at an EU level.


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While we wait for the most futuristic ideas, such as driverless cars, to become reality, we already have good ways of reducing air pollution and carbon emissions. Zeta Automotive, the Energy & Power Group spinout, specialises in fuel-saving technology for fleet operators. They provide electronic systems for commercial vehicles that help them run more efficiently – controlling acceleration and cutting the engine when idling, for instance.


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Dr Christian Brand is interested in the interplay between transport choices, energy, environment and health. He has established an international reputation for hus pioneering work on measuirng and evaluating personbal travel behaviour, and has written a book on the subject, ‘Personal Travel and climate Change – Exploring Climate Change Emissions from Personal Travel Activity of Individuals and Households‘ (2008).


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Dr Tim Schwanen, the new Director of the TSU, is interested in understanding the transition to cycling and low carbon mobility in the UK.   Recent research includes a comparison of cycling in Oxford and Brighton – find out more here.

Dr Christian Brand is interested in the impact of new cycling and walking infrastructure on the carbon emissions of motorised travel in cities, as well as in understanding what explains active travel behaviour (walking and cycling). With colleagues Yena Sohn and John M Preston, Dr Brand recently completed case studies in Cardiff, Kenilworth and Southampton to reveal the individual and built environmental characteristics that are associated with active travel behaviours.  You can read the resulting paper in Environment and Planning here.