politics transport

Reduce traffic, not just combustion engines

Electric cars are an important part of the government’s plans for a low carbon transport system. It’s in Boris Johnson’s ‘ten point plan’, though we await the specific policies that will accelerate the take-up of EVs. There’s no doubt that they will play a significant role, but electric vehicles are not enough on their own, for a whole host of reasons.

In a new briefing, the Green Alliance outline two reasons why we should also look at reducing distance driven in cars – any kind of car – and tackle traffic as well.

First of all, Britain’s carbon targets rely on the very rapid adoption of electric cars. To meet intermediate 2030 targets, the Climate Change Committee says that half of new car sales will need to be electric by 2025, and 90% by 2030. That’s a steep curve. Given that the policies to get us there aren’t in place, there’s a good chance that we won’t make it.

Because the target relies on this rapid adoption, it could easily be derailed. An economic downturn, for example, would lead to lower car sales. A slowdown in sales would delay the transition and we’d miss the carbon target. A reduction in traffic at the same time would give us a bit more space to operate in, and bring emissions down faster.

Often ahead of Westminster, this is what the Scottish government have done. They have a set a target to reduce miles driven by car by 20% by 2030.

The second reason to reduce traffic is that it unlocks a host of other benefits, as I described recently in my review of the book Curbing Traffic. More active transport would be better for our health, saving costs to the NHS. Streets would be safer, quieter and less polluted. If we invested in high quality public transport, it would benefit those on lower incomes and help to reduce inequality. We’d all spend less time queueing in traffic. There could be huge improvements to our wellbeing and mental health from reclaiming streets and public spaces from traffic.

The Green Alliance also point out that reduced traffic would lower emissions indirectly – the embedded emissions from road building are massive.

I look forward to seeing what concrete plans the government has for electric cars. But I’d like to remind them of the consultation paper that they published themselves last year. In it, Transport Secretary Grant Schapps wrote this:

“Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.”

We know it. They know it. We need to reduce car use overall, as well as shift to electric cars.

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