The conclusion was that it was a policy idea that was 'ahead of its time' due to high implementation costs and public resistance to the concept but I have always wondered whether it would be taken up as a policy option in the future.
It was partly because of this that I was so excited to work on the CitiCAP project as it was the first time that a PCT scheme was to be deployed in the transport sector. A lot has changed since my time in Defra, so this was an exciting opportunity to see whether it could be practically operated and if the challenges originally identified still held true. To assess whether this is still the case and for the purpose of this Zoom-In, I conducted interviews with two people who had been involved in Lahti’s PCT to get their views and experiences of the scheme.
Lahti’s Personal Carbon Trading - the basics
What the interview seeks to explore
Interview with Liisa Minkkinen
Liisa Minkkinen (LM) is a 27 year old communication specialist at the city of Lahti where she has been working for the last eight months. She came back to her hometown where she has lived most of life following her University studies. She has a strong interest in environmental matters and sustainability, so the chance to live in the 2021 European Green Capital was a unique opportunity to experience exciting new projects, like Lahti’s PCT, which could have long term benefits not just for the city but also for herself.
Interview with Heikki Kotinurmi
Heikki Kotinurmi (HK) is a 38 year old school teacher. Married with three young children, he lives in Lahti near to the school where he works, which is located near the city centre. Balancing work and family commitments means that the car is an important means of transportation, but he tries to cycle as much as possible. Like Liisa, he has a self-proclaimed interest in environmental matters and regularly keeps abreast of the latest issues.
Before the introduction of the PCT, how did you normally travel around town?
LM: Even though I’m living in the city centre, I tended to use my car as I felt that it was the easiest and most convenient way to travel around town. This is despite Lahti being quite a compact city, so most of the travel distances are actually quite short, meaning that most of my journeys could easily be walked.
HK: The school is only around two kilometres from where we live so I could easily just bike to work but with the family, it is far more convenient to go by car. First, we take the children to their schools, after which I drop off my wife at her work and then I go to mine. I do however prefer to travel by bike and try to cycle with the children as much as possible. Most of the children’s activities are actually quite close by so it is possible to do so but with many errands to run, going by car sometimes feels like the only option. So, it’s almost strange to now use the car as I used to cycle to work as I actually prefer the bike.
What were your motivations for taking part in the PCT scheme?
LM: Well, I'm interested in improving my lifestyle to be more sustainable. I’ve tried to change my diet to be more plant based, shopped more consciously but I have always had an interest in how mobility and our transport choices impact the environment. When I found out about the scheme, I thought - okay, maybe this would help me choose to walk or use the bus over using my car, but I was also interested to see how my travel behaviours were having a direct and quantifiable impact on the environment. With the PCT application, I can now see with my own eyes on my phone everywhere I go and how the choices I am making are impacting the climate and environment. It's an easy way to track the choices I make which also makes it quite an efficient way to start to think about changing my behaviour. On the other hand, of course, it's really cool that my city is one of the first in the world to use personal carbon trading and obviously, I wanted to be a part of it. My friends who live in cities across Europe are really interested in the scheme and are always asking me about it so it's great to be directly working in the research and using it first-hand.
HK: I have always been interested in environmental issues and teaching the importance of it to future generations. This is part of the reason why I have always biked around town and part of the reason why I joined the scheme as it would motivate me to cycle more instead of using the car - and why not get rewarded for doing so?
What were the major challenges or difficulties you faced using the PCT application?
LM: To be honest, I didn't really use the application that much in the end. Even though I had it on my phone, I didn’t check it too regularly, so I didn’t see many major changes in the amount of virtual euros I had on my account or any drastic changes in emissions since the beginning of the autumn. It could have been because there was a bug in the system that was not updating the data or simply because I travel quite short distances, so I was not producing enough kilometres to really see any differences. The other thing was that I have the application downloaded on my work phone which I only really use during the week, which could explain the problem with the distances but overall, I really liked the application.
HK: One thing that really stuck out for me was how much the application impacted the battery life of the phone. It got me thinking about whether I should change the battery on my phone but also the wider implications of it as I needed to charge my phone more frequently. I still needed the phone to call people, send emails, look at the weather and the like but it raised questions for me about the carbon footprint of my phone usage as I needed more energy to use it and whether this was having a wider negative impact on the environment.
It just made me wonder about all the energy that was being used when the application was open, say at night when I was not using it, and whether this was going against the objectives of the scheme. It really made me appreciate the environmental impact of everything that we do and not just the travel choices that we make.
All things considered, what do you like best about the scheme?
LM: I think it goes back to what I said before about how motivating it is to see the impact of your decisions. It is easy to measure the environmental impact of the choices you make - that is what I like best about the scheme. So, if I choose to take the car I can instantly, or at least within a short space of time, see how it impacts my emissions budget. It makes me think that if I choose to walk, I can calculate how long it will take me to compensate for the driving I did. So, it is easier to understand because you just have it on your phone, and you are able to visualise it. It makes carbon trading more approachable and then easier to adapt it to your normal life.
HK: I think it's a really good idea in that it helps to encourage people to move around in an environmentally friendly way. There are also many good things you can get from the application’s marketplace like bus tickets or tickets to the swimming pool and because there are many things on offer, it can cater for many different people. I like the fact that through the scheme you can have days out with the family which brings us closer together, making family memories. Hopefully, interest in the scheme can grow and be taken up in other cities as awareness of climate change grows. It's a big thing but small steps like this can make a big difference for the future.
If you had the choice, what would you change about the scheme?
LM: I think it would be interesting if the scheme fined you if you went over your carbon budget. Since we didn’t have this function, I noticed that I was still using the car for completely unnecessary trips that I could easily walk, that is to say were completely accessible. I would have been more committed to walk or bike more if there was actually a fine that you had to pay, especially now that in Finland it is cold and snowing all day. The other thing was around the usability of the application because I didn't quite get all the functions - so I think I would like to see it be a bit more user friendly. Maybe this was because I didn’t take part in the trial’s induction, so it was a little confusing because I didn’t see any real changes in my emissions. Of course, I didn‘t read the instructions before I started to use the application, but who does?
But I have to admit that it would have been useful to have read them so I’m not really an expert on using the application. I just started using it and pushing the buttons to see what happens. Maybe it's a valuable lesson that people are just going to open it and expect that it just shows you everything and you can just get on with it.
HK:Sometimes, when I have been planning to go somewhere by bike, I have turned the app on and then if we go as a family somewhere by car, maybe I didn't open it. Having this option doesn’t give you a real picture of your carbon levels but if you had a fine, maybe that is something they should have thought about.
As I said earlier, I would have liked more information about the environmental impact of the products and materials of the scheme as a whole as well as transport emissions. For example, maybe some links to information about the emissions created through the battery usage could have motivated me to use the application more.
Would you say that you are now more environmentally conscious of your travel behaviour but also your lifestyle more generally?
LM: I think it was over the summer that it was going somewhere in the city. It was only like one and a half kilometres or something, really close by, and I had just been ranting about plastics in the oceans on my Instagram. When I was leaving for the appointment, I just grabbed my car keys and I was like okay, I'm just going to walk instead of using the car because it's faster. Then I was thinking to myself that I had just been posting something about the environment and you're saying that you care for it but I’m just about to drive to an appointment that will take me 45 minutes to go there and back as opposed to walking maybe 25 minutes.
I think this was partly because I had downloaded the CitiCAP application that I ended up choosing to walk but because by using it I am now better able to understand the environmental impact of my decisions more generally. I can now better appreciate that you cannot neglect one area of your life when you are trying to become more sustainable. Even though I eat well, recycle and shop more responsibly, I also need to think about how I travel. So, it makes me think about all aspects of my life, so I definitely think that this project has helped me more aware of this and areas where I need to improve.
HK: I tend to agree that it has made me more conscious about the impacts of my behaviour and because of this, I have tried to behave more environmentally friendly as a result. Like I said, I have always liked to walk and bike around town but now seeing the impact of using the car it makes me think about using it less.
As the kids can already ride their bikes and because we live in the city centre, we can use the bikes to go to a lot of places like visit grandma or go to the Harbour to eat ice cream. So, I think that this programme has motivated me to cycle more with the family.
I guess we have already slightly touched on this - do you think the scheme has not just made you more conscious about the environment, but has it helped change your overall behaviour?
LM: It’s interesting because I’m just about to move to an apartment which is located not far from the city centre where I currently live, which is only a two to three minute walk from work. I’m quite excited to see how that will impact my travelling behaviours as the new travel distance to work will be something like 20 to 25 minutes by walking and then maybe even less than by car. So, I'm actually quite interested to see if the scheme has changed me enough to make me walk through the rain and snow or even take the bus as much as possible from my new home.
One of the first things I checked after I found out that I got the house was the bus schedules. I was proud of myself that it occurred to me that I could actually take the bus and maybe it's also related to my hopes for the future of the project. It would be cool for me to be able to monitor my behaviour when the distances and the travel time gets longer but I can’t really tell for sure whether the scheme has changed my behaviour for good as I still need to take some time to continue to monitor the choices I make.
HK: I think that it has made me generally more aware and what I can do. I’ve been reading up on the climate crisis and how it is impacting people around the world and it is easy to think that it is just the responsibility of countries to deal with the problem. It has made me think and appreciate that we all have a responsibility and role to play. This is perhaps something that I could pass onto the children that I teach and motivate others to use the app. There are many additional benefits of travelling more sustainably, it can improve your health, save you money and so on. There are so many other benefits about using other means of transportation than the car, which the scheme has helped me to appreciate.
Covid has had a massive impact on our daily lives, especially in the way that we travel. What impact has it had on your daily life and has it had a positive or negative effect on your involvement with the PCT?
LM: Before I used to travel abroad very frequently. It's been nearly a year and a half since my last trip abroad and for me that’s a really long time. Since childhood, I have travelled abroad maybe once or twice a year so for me, it's really strange but on the other hand I’m quite happy about it because it is good for the environment. I think it makes it easier because everyone is in the same boat so to speak.
I think that the only real aspect that has changed for me is using public transport. While I generally didn’t take the bus much, Covid has raised safety concerns for me. This year, I would say that I have taken around three or four car trips to see friends in other cities. Usually, I would never drive 300 kilometres by car because I prefer to take the train because it is generally safer from a road safety perspective, particularly in winter.
I am really looking forward to Covid lessening its grip so I can travel by train again because it is way nicer, but safety issues have changed my travelling habits a little. I think it's more about the feeling of safety. If you wear your mask and keep safe distances then you could travel by public transport, but the problem is that even though you know that you are safe and healthy and doing everything you can, you can’t be sure that everyone else is. So, it’s not an actual threat that stops me from using buses or trains, but rather I think it's just a feeling of safety. So, I think it will be great to get back to commuting by public transport.
HK: When the schools started distance learning, there was not much of a need to move around town at all. Maybe just to go to the shop to get food. We thought it was important to stay active and do trips with the kids, like go to the park but of course, it was a very stressful time. I have to admit that it didn’t motivate me to open the app and see the carbon footprint of the day’s activities. Holiday plans were put on hold, so we stayed at home over the spring and summer and visited some local nature parks with the kids. There wasn’t much else to do so we had to take the car to reach the places but when we were there we could cycle and walk around like normal. I think generally, Covid did make us reconsider our travel habits and made us think a bit harder - ecologically speaking - that we don’t necessarily need to travel by plane, which is obviously better for the environment.
When it came to travelling around town, not much changed to be honest. I never really used public transport in the past. As a student, I used the train and bus a lot more but now we don’t really have any good connections to where we need to go. Given the situation, when I do see the occasional person travelling on the bus without a face mask it puts me off using it. Given the times that we live in today, it’s important to limit the risk of getting the virus so I haven’t been using the bus.
Finally, what are your hopes for the project going ahead?
LM: I would really like to see the personal carbon trading take off in other cities. It really made me think every time I stepped into my car: do I really need to take this trip? I would like to continue using it and hope that I can still use it in the future.
My biggest regret is that I only downloaded the app on my work phone which I have with me only a small amount of time compared to my personal one. I would have got a far more accurate, complete picture if it were on my own phone and it’s because of this I would like the scheme to continue. I joined the scheme quite late in the day, but I have already seen the impact it has had on my decision making, not just on my travel behaviour but for a more sustainable lifestyle.
As I mentioned before, my friends in other European cities have been asking about the scheme and seeing how much interest it has gathered in the international media, I think that it has great potential to be expanded not just in Europe but also worldwide.
HK: I hope that many more people instal the app and use it to become more conscious of their travel behaviour and the choices they make. I'm really happy that Lahti is taking the lead and testing this for the first time. It will be interesting to see the impact of the scheme as some people criticise it as being expensive and that sustainable transport investments are too costly. I'm glad that these choices are made in my city and I'm proud of Lahti for taking the lead. I hope that this kind of project helps to make people more conscious about their actions so that they can have a positive impact on the environment.