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Doing it for themselves

Mounting traffic congestion rather than government policy has led several companies to develop their own integrated transport strategies. A year after the government's New Deal for Transport White Paper, NCE looks at three who are taking on themselves to

Civil engineer John Elliott has a major task on his hands. As drug company Pfizer's transport and planning manager he has set himself the target of cutting the proportion of staff driving to work by car from 75% to 60% within the next three years.

This will be no mean feat. Sandwich is Pfizer's main UK site and is a vast manufacturing and research complex. In all it covers 136ha, of which 80ha are developed or under development. Around 4,500 people work there at present, not including contractors who are building a major new extension.

The permanent work force is expected to expand by around 1,000 between now and 2004. If there is no shift away from car commuting, on site car parks will be swamped and the three main roads serving the site will be jammed solid at rush hour.

A key element of Elliott's plan is due to come into effect early next year. Then, staff will be paid a £2 per day 'cash out' for walking, cycling or using public transport to get to work. The cash out scheme works by crediting staff with points via their electronic security passes if they leave their cars at home.

Those driving to work will have points removed when they use their passes to get into Pfizer's car parks. Motorists sharing their cars will be allowed to split points deductions between them as a way of encouraging car sharing. Once a month points will be totted up and employees who are in credit will receive a payout.

Elliott says the £2 cash out is a direct trade off against the estimated £400 to £500 annual cost per space of providing and maintaining car parks at the site. The payment is also pegged to the cost of travelling by bus.

Elliott joined Pfizer from the London Borough of Brent last summer, after helping develop the council's integrated transport policy. He was taken on after the company had decided to create a job with the specific task of developing a green commuter plan.

At the moment just over 3,000 staff drive to work making up a large chunk of the 20,000 vehicles which clog the country roads around Sandwich every day. Congestion is a serious concern to Pfizer not least because it makes staff arrive late for work, often in a frazzled state of mind. 'Many staff with demanding and responsible jobs are arriving for work in a less than well composed state of mind,' says research carried out for the company last year by consultant John Whitelegg Associates.

'They are then met by difficulties in finding a parking space and/or a long walk from the parking space to their work location. This situation will deteriorate further as Pfizer expands, an unacceptable situation for a company at the leading edge globally in its economic sector.'

Pfizer also claims to be an environmentally aware company 'we are a health care company after all,' says a spokeswoman. As one of the biggest employers in the area also feels obliged to have a responsible attitude to commuting.

Ahead of the cash out scheme the company has already introduced a shuttle bus service between the plant and Sandwich railway station. Pfizer has also contracted bus operator Stagecoach to run a rush hour bus service to Thanet, Canterbury and Dover. Staff have to pay to use the buses and shuttles, but fares will be lower than the £2 a day parking penalty they will forfeit under the cash out scheme next year.

Pfizer is currently lobbying Kent County Council to widen the A246 trunk road which serves the site, to four lanes by adding a bus and multi occupancy vehicle lane in each direction.

The company is also making efforts to encourage cycling to work by installing changing rooms, and locating bike racks close to the main buildings so that cyclists do not have as far to walk to their work places as motorists in far flung parts of the car park. The Sandwich site is so big that it can take as long as 15 minutes to walk from the remotest parking spaces to offices and laboratories at the other end of the site.

As an extra incentive, cyclists are also offered free breakfast. Pfizer is also working with local authorities in the area to ensure that cycle lanes are built on the existing roads serving the site.

Success of the scheme depends on Pfizer's ability get its staff to support the plan. Senior managers are encouraged to set an example by abandoning their cars where possible. 'All our managers must 'walk the talk,'' says Elliott.

Consequently Pfizer's UK chairman and managing director Ken Moran travels by train from home to nearby Birchington-on-Sea. At the moment he still has to get a cab from the station as there is no bus service to the Pfizer site. Dr David McGibney senior vice president of medicinal research and development cycles 24km to work when he can.

Elliott himself is setting an example by car sharing or catching the bus. 'I pledged to not use my car a minimum of two days a week on average, he says. 'So far I have managed an average of four.'

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