How has Newcastle empowered its citizens?

Newcastle is a major city in the North East of England, and one of England’s Core Cities, with a population of about approximately 286,800. The modal split in Newcastle is 30% walking, 1% cycling, 39% public transport and 30% private motor vehicle. Newcastle’s mobility management plan focuses on empowering a modal shift from using the private car to using the bike.


The last big investment in highways in Newcastle was over 30 years ago. This a major reason why the current network struggles to cope with the volume of traffic and also means that the use of sustainable modes of transport is not facilitated. The Council is committed to increasing the levels of physical activity in the city and recognises the role that infrastructure plays in promoting active travel and improving public health for the old and the young.


Newcastle’s plan was to completely transform the city’s highways infrastructure to make it easier and better for everyone to get around and to enable more people to choose active travel. The council’s various online and social media presences provided one starting point by promoting events, competitions, activities and incentives. Cycling in the City had a dedicated website and a comprehensive calendar function detailing all of its events and activities. Another channel of communication is provided by the local radio broadcaster, reaching morning commuters and also younger people listening to the ‘homework’ shows that follow the drive time peak. In addition to campaigning, rewards were used to incentivize people to travel by bike.


‘Go Smarter’ was chosen as the EMPOWER Project’s brand in Newcastle. ‘Go Smarter’ is the name of the Travel Awareness Campaign for the North East Combined Authority, funded by the Department for Transport’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund. As an established brand, Go Smarter had existing campaigns, contacts and a level of recognition on which EMPOWER could draw.

The EMPOWER SMART app was selected as the mechanism for delivery of the project in Newcastle, providing a range of features that aligned with the use of sustainable modes in the city. The app provided multi-modal functionality but it was decided that the EMPOWER project would focus on cycling. As one of only eight Cycle Ambition Cities in England, Newcastle has received over £16m to deliver new and improved cycle routes across the city and the Council’s Public Health team had instituted a ‘Cycling in the City’ campaign to promote cycling, with particular emphasis on areas in east and west Newcastle that have poorer health outcomes.

Over the early part of the project, the Go Smarter App was developed in conjunction with Mobidot. The app is a branded version of the SMART app that was launched in the City of Enschede. A marketing campaign was developed drawing on key strengths identified by previous Go Smarter projects and mainly focussed on a series of events scheduled across 2017. These included major roadworks, promotional events and football matches plus examples of completed capital schemes. The aim was to link to and tie in with existing promotions, taking advantage of things such as major roadworks that were likely to cause serious disruption to usual journeys, thus providing an opportunity to instigate changes in travel behaviour. The app was promoted initially as being a way to keep up to date with transport in Newcastle (via the messaging function of the app). Promotion also made use of the cycling stakeholders’ forum, which was invited to provide information on where people were cycling.

Rewards were introduced into the app in August 2017 and worked on the basis of a general reward offer for miles travelled using Sustainable Modes. A single ‘Point’ was earned for walking one mile, cycling two miles, and travelling 5 miles on public transport. Points could then be redeemed for various offers. From the point the rewards went live on 11th August there were ‘free’ drinks from two local coffee shops in exchange for 20 points and bike services exchangeable for 50 points. The most popular reward was a £10 Intu Shopping voucher as Intu own the main shopping centre in Newcastle City Centre so the voucher could be used at a range of restaurants, shops within the centre.


Overall, up until the 14th March 2018, the Go Smarter App was downloaded (with someone registering as a user) 1,457 times. A total of 414,698 trips have been logged, covering 3,844,067 km travelled. 1,357 incentives have been redeemed by users of the app over the period. A ‘Spring into Go Smarter Campaign’ took place in March 2018.

Permission has been given to extend the operation of the app until the end of 2018. Following discussions with partners around the North East Region, the app will be promoted on a regional basis under the Go Smarter branding.


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