Funding granted for innovative clean air project to learn how Bristol travel changed during pandemic

Media Relations Team, 13 May 2021

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A view across the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Dr Fiona Crawford, Research Fellow in Transport Studies, has been awarded funding for a new innovative clean air project, looking at how car and van travel has changed across Bristol during different stages of the pandemic.

Fiona’s project, ‘Characterising changing travel patterns in the COVID-19 era’, looks at applying methods previously used in gene sequencing, to number plates and vehicle registration data, in order to generate insights into travel behaviour during the pandemic and provide insights into the air quality impacts of changes in working patterns and shopping behaviour (e.g., increasing home working and home deliveries).

The research will use data supplied by Bristol City Council, under a data sharing agreement, and is very timely with the Clean Air Zone due to be introduced in the city in October 2021.

Dr Crawford said: “We are thrilled to receive this funding to help with our research. We know that there have been far fewer cars on the road during the pandemic, but what we don’t know is whether it is the least polluting vehicles that have been taken off the roads. 

“This research will examine how travel has changed across Bristol during the pandemic and these behavioural responses will be examined alongside the emissions standard of the vehicles involved.”

The funding is part of the University of Birmingham-led TRANSITION Clean Air Network, funded by UK Research and Innovation. TRANSITION has awarded £48,000 to five innovative clean air research projects, including Fiona’s, aimed at helping to shape the UK’s low-emission mobility revolution to deliver clean air solutions and help meet the government’s ‘net zero’ targets by 2050.

The five projects, led by both commercial and academic organisations, aim to: characterise changing travel patterns; measure exposure to pollution in different transport modes; progress real-time identification of pollution sources; reduce the emissions of pollutants from so-called ‘zero-emission’ vehicles; and minimise public exposure at the roadside.

It comes after the UK government last month (April) announced it has set the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels.

Dr Suzanne Bartington, TRANSITION Lead Investigator and Public Health Clinician and Environmental Epidemiologist at the University of Birmingham, said: “We are delighted to fund these innovative projects spanning UK road, rail and bus transport. The outputs will advance our knowledge, understanding and tools to reduce health harms of transport emissions.”

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