Science and Technology

Promoting sustainable university travel choices

sustainable university travel

This project will conduct a rapid review of the staff and student travel plan literature, the review of selected return to campus plans and sustainable travel plans and existing Transport for NSW Travel Plan Toolkit materials; conduct surveys of staff and students travel behaviour in the light of modified study and work modes across selected University of Sydney (USYD) campuses; and develop a University Travel Choices implementation plan for the USYD campuses.

Journey to work patterns have been substantially reset as the result of COVID-19. The existing iMOVE project Working from Home (WFH) and implications for revision of metropolitan strategic transport models led by ITLS in partnership with Department of Transport and Main Roads (Queensland), Transport for NSW (TfNSW) and WA Department of Transport has shown that the influence of WFH is likely to be profound.

Studying from home (SFH) has also become prevalent since March 2020, and while this has subsided in Australia for primary and secondary education (other than during periods of lockdown), it largely remains in place for tertiary education, and in many instances international students are now studying from their home country.

Participants

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The physical absence of tertiary students has had a significantly large impact on public transport (as well as on local suppliers of student accommodation, and other support industries and services). With the easing of restrictions, many students are showing a keen interest in hybrid modes of teaching and learning.

TfNSW are interested in learning more about the emerging and intended commuting patterns of university staff and students post-pandemic and the implementation of return to campus plans of universities to further inform the development of their Travel Choices program.

This project will:

  • Conduct a rapid review of the staff and student travel plan literature
  • Conduct the review of selected return to campus plans and sustainable travel plans and existing TfNSW Travel Plan Toolkit materials
  • Hold surveys of staff and students travel behaviour in the light of modified study and work modes across selected USYD campuses; and
  • Develop a University Travel Choices implementation plan for the USYD campus(es).

This will enable the project team to provide robust recommendations for suggested initiatives to influence travel behaviours and demand in a university environment.

Project background

Travel plans have become an important part of policy in recent years and represent an emphasis on managing infrastructure, encouraging sustainable and active travel and discouraging private vehicle use. Universities are major trip attractors that require the infrastructure needed to support large volumes of commuters, notably students, on an almost daily basis.

Prior studies show that through a combination of education, increased awareness and modifying attitudes through TDM initiatives, a modal shift away from private cars may be achieved. ‘Pull’ measures increase the attractiveness of sustainable travel modes and are often considered more appealing because they influence the cost or improve the quality of a service.

Alternatively, ‘push’ measures encourage individuals to avoid individual car travel modes by making them less attractive through increased costs or less convenience. For example, increasing parking fees whilst simultaneously reducing the number of available spaces aiming to make it less attractive to drive.

With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, universities have had to adapt their current teaching styles during 2020 and beyond. From March 2020, the Australian Government’s lockdown measures (as in many countries) limited unnecessary transport and actively encouraged individuals to work and study from home where possible. Journey to work patterns have been substantially reset as the result of COVID-19. The existing iMOVE project Working from Home (WFH) and implications for revision of metropolitan strategic transport models has shown that the influence of WFH is likely to be profound. For example, findings from the project’s on-going surveys show:

  • Around 49% of respondents in Greater Sydney reported their work can be performed from home some or all of the time (in ‘Wave 3’ surveys held in September/October 2020). Around 45% of respondents in the Greater Sydney reported their work can be performed from home some or all of the time (in ‘Wave 4’ surveys held in May-June 2021).
  • 77% of workers reported same or increased levels of productivity working from home (in Wave 3) while 80% of workers in Greater Sydney reported the same or increased levels of productivity working from home (in Wave 4).
  • Employees in Greater Sydney reported they would like to work from home on average 1.74 days per week once COVID-19 restrictions are eased in Wave 3, and 1.53 days per week in Wave 4.
  • The spread of working from home days is fairly even across Monday to Friday, although the percentage of people working from home only has declined comparing Wave 3 to Wave 4.

Studying from home

Whilst studying from home (SFH) has subsided in Australia for primary and secondary education (other than during periods of lockdown), it largely remains in place for tertiary education, and in many instances international students are now studying from their home country (though in considerably less numbers than before across the sector).

The physical absence of tertiary students has had a significantly large impact on public transport (as well as on local suppliers of student accommodation, and other support industries and services). With the easing of restrictions, many students are showing a keen interest in hybrid modes of teaching and learning.

The move to online teaching in universities has been maintained with a mix of small group teaching and online lectures throughout 2021; however, future policies on education delivery and staff and student attendance on campus remain unconfirmed. This uncertainty is further compounded by the extended lockdown in Greater Sydney from late June onwards.

Crucially, we remain within the period in Australia when international borders have not yet opened (and likely to be no earlier than mid-2022) and many international students have not been able to return to campus. We thus require some indication of where returning students will live and their preferred study modes.

Since both staff and students may not need to travel to and from their university as regularly as previously, this could have a lasting impact on future travel choices and subsequent repercussions for transport emissions. For example, with an increased incidence of working and studying from home, someone who previously travelled to campus each day by public transport may in future only visit campus twice a week and decide to travel by private car.

As restrictions on travel lifted, public transport operators and authorities moved to ensure public transport is safe to use through reduced capacity on buses and trains to ensure social distancing, messaging via Apps to aid decision making about when to travel and improved sanitisation. In parallel, an uptake in private vehicle use has been witnessed because of the ongoing biosecurity fears associated with public transport use.

The TfNSW Travel Choices program

Travel Choices is a free resource to help individuals, businesses and organisations prepare for and adapt to the changes to Sydney’s transport network. The TfNSW Travel Choices team provides support for those making the shift to more sustainable ways of moving into, out of, and around Sydney.

To date Travel Choices has worked with over 850 businesses and organisations across Sydney and has contributed to the 13% reduction in vehicles entering the CBD and the corresponding 14.7% increase in public transport trips during the morning peak.

TfNSW’s COVIDSafe Travel Choices program has been working with public and private sector organisations throughout the pandemic to manage demand on transport networks, and providing information and resources to help businesses make decisions about if, how, and when their employees travel to work. The program is a free resource for employers in Sydney and works with them to understand their needs, share information and updates about the transport system, and encourage safe and sustainable travel behaviour. TfNSW also produces a regular Travel Choices ebook aimed at individuals, businesses and organisations.

A notable example of the Travel Choices program was helping commuters make the shift to sustainable ways of commuting during the upgrade of the Epping to Chatswood Rail Line. Commuters switched to Station Link and other public transport services, active transport, as well as retiming their trips to outside the peak hours and reducing their need to travel by working remotely.

TfNSW would like to learn more about the emerging and intended commuting patterns of university staff and students post-pandemic and the implementation of return to campus plans of universities to further inform the development of its Travel Choices program; and for sharing learnings with the NSW tertiary sector.

Sustainable Transport initiatives at The University of Sydney

The University of Sydney’s Sustainability Strategy includes targets to include active travel modes to and from the campuses. The current Sustainable Transport and Mobility Plan was prepared in 2015 and is being refreshed in 2021.

A previous online survey of travel behaviour and physical activity was conducted at the University of Sydney in 2017. The survey was actively promoted for three weeks prior to release among staff and students, which asked about travel behaviour on a specific day in September 2017.

The survey questions were the same as those used in a similar online survey conducted across the University in 2012. In total, 4359 respondents completed the survey, representing 10.8% of staff and 4.1% of students. Approximately two thirds of survey respondents were students, in both the 2012 and 2017 surveys.

Compared with 2012, there was an increase in active travel to the University in 2017 from increased walking and train travel. Compared to 2012, in 2017 there was an increase in average minutes walked by about nine minutes, and less time spent sitting. Trip lengths increased, with 68% of trips taking longer than 30 minutes in 2017.

The amount of time spent in low–moderate levels physical activity increased between 2012 and 2017, potentially related to active travel behaviour. Citywide changes towards a system-wide transport fare structure was the biggest change in the transport environment between the two surveys and may have contributed to increased train travel.

Project objectives

  1. Establish intended return to campus plans of staff and students in the light of modified study and work modes.
  2. Revise the draft TfNSW Travel Plan Toolkit in the light of the outcome of objective #1.
  3. Develop a University Travel Choices implementation plan for the USYD campus(es); and
  4. Provide recommendations for suggested initiatives to influence travel behaviours and demand in a university environment

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