Commuting travel behaviour and polluting emissions in suburban north-west Milan: which role for travel demand management?

Giulio Mattioli

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Policy approaches to sustainable transport can be seen as located on a theoretical continuum: at one extreme, “technological fix” solutions (alternative fuels, etc.) aimed at reducing transport emissions without challenging trends towards ever-increasing travel demand, motorization and suburbanization. At the other end of the continuum, many scholars and policy-makers see reductions in travel demand and changes in travel behaviour (such as modal shift away from the car) as the only way to achieve a reduction in greenhouse-gases emissions. In this second field, a further dividing line can be traced between approaches that target individual behaviour directly (such as travel demand management) and planning interventions aimed at changing the spatial structure in which transport choices are made (Transit Oriented Development, urban densification, etc.). The paper addresses this policy dilemma, by presenting the results of an exploratory survey on the commuting behaviour of the employees of public and private firms in suburban north-west Milan. The survey has been carried out by the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Milan-Bicocca in May 2010, in the context of a travel demand management initiative that has involved both local governments and private firms. The collected data allow an estimation of the PM and CO2 emitted during the daily commute, making it possible to assess the environmental impact of work-related travel. The findings show the existence of two main types of employees: a relatively old, mostly female public-sector workforce, who lives in the local area and has low environmental impact; a group of private employees who is younger, more educated and lives further away from the workplace, and is thus responsible for a much larger amount of emissions. The data also allows for the appraisal of the environmental impact of three extreme policy scenarios: a “technological fix” scenario, where all the vehicles are replaced with less polluting ones; the implementation of a successful travel demand management strategy, which considerably reduces the modal share of the car; an urban densification strategy, that reduces the commuting distances. This mental experiment leads to the following conclusions: first, the social and spatial trends of the last decades are clearly the main driver behind the dramatic rise in transport-related polluting emissions; second – and consequently – the potential impact of travel demand management policies and technological fixes appears limited, especially in comparison with densification strategies
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Event32nd International Geographical Congress (IGC 2012) - University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
Duration: 26 Aug 201230 Aug 2012


Conference32nd International Geographical Congress (IGC 2012)


  • sustainable transport
  • travel behaviour
  • air pollution
  • co2 emissions
  • particulate matter (PM)
  • travel demand management
  • built environment


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