Electric vehicles are good, but making cities accessible on foot is better

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But are we going fast enough – or even in the right direction? What more could we do and what other options do we have to reduce pollution and emissions from transportation?

Colin Howden, director of the Transform Scotland campaign group, says far too much infrastructure spending is still spent on more lanes for motorists.

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“Unfortunately, most of the Scottish Government’s capital expenditure is still spent on road construction. We believe the government has spent around £ 4bn over the past decade on new roads and plan to spend an additional £ 7bn over the next decade.

“Transport Scotland looks like he’s spent a lot of money on public transport. He spends around £ 1 billion a year on the railways, but almost all of this keeps the existing railways in operation. In comparison, little new spending has been made on rail infrastructure or other new sustainable transport infrastructure. The remainder of the capital expenditure was devoted to new roads.

Howden says some projects, like a light rail network in Glasgow, have been hinted at but not implemented, and he won’t be convinced “until we see the real money being invested in sustainable transport on the ground, rather than in aspirations ”.

He adds, “We can’t just keep saying that the government is going to save the planet tomorrow, it has to save it now. Unfortunately, the decisions they have made are to invest in unsustainable rather than sustainable transport. “

He welcomed the move towards active travel, highlighted in the government agreement between the SNP and the Greens. He describes it as a real “radical shift in investing in walking and cycling,” adding, “We need it. People won’t ride a bike if the roads are not safe – I’m a very experienced cyclist, but cycling around Edinburgh can be unjustifiable at times.

Howden would also like to see long-haul freight runs (over 250 miles) shift from heavy trucks on road to rail, adding, “Look at the shortages right now. If many more long-distance trips were by rail rather than by truck, you would need fewer drivers. “

Regarding air travel, Howden believes some short-haul flights are unnecessary, such as Edinburgh-London, and more could be done to encourage travelers to use rail services. “We have to get rid of the majority of flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London,” he said.

He suggests the public sector could prevent staff from taking flights, while increasing aviation taxes and subsidizing the railways to make it more attractive to the general public. “If you have to go to London and air travel is much cheaper, we have to change the prices. “

Howden has some optimism about “decent progress towards electric buses”, but is adamant that more investment in public transport infrastructure is also needed.

This view is shared by Gavin Thomson, transport activist at Friends of the Earth Scotland, who believes private car use should be reduced and more people should be encouraged to use free public and public transport. . He says: “Transport accounts for around a third of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions and that has not changed much over the past 30 years. Of those emissions, 39% come from passenger cars, he says.

“We need to avoid the use of private fossil fuel cars as much as possible. Those who really need a car, we want to switch to electric vehicles. But all these other journeys must switch to cleaner public transport, on foot, by bike, by wheel, by scooter.

“Many fossil fuel car trips are quite short, one or two kilometers or less, so in an urban area it should be very easy to walk and cycle, but at the moment we are not there. . “

Thomson says free public transport could be funded through general taxation to reduce emissions and improve communities. “We should see it as the key to public life… not only because of its central role in reducing emissions, but because quality public transport is essential to reduce inequalities.

“People with low incomes are much more likely to use the bus than people in other income brackets, and when we have a deregulated bus network, like in the west of Scotland, it is quite expensive. and some people can’t afford it, so they couldn’t take the bus to where they were going. Sometimes it’s missing medical appointments or just not going to town. If we make a bus network more comprehensive and affordable, we increase access to everything.

He was impressed by the cycling network plans recently announced by the Glasgow and Edinburgh councils, not only to reduce emissions but also to strengthen the economy. “The cities of Scotland compete with other cities in Northern Europe for tourism, investment and employers, and when they compare our main cities to others, we are far behind in things like cities where life is good and active travel. “

Political will is at the heart of any transformation into a more sustainable transportation network, and it’s something that Thomson says can only happen if our elected officials come together. “The talk of sustainable transport is often tech-driven, but it’s in its politics that we need to take braver steps – it’s the politicians who say, ‘This is really important, we have to do this so that ‘there is a livable planet and city. ‘. “

One low-carbon technology that has taken hold is the use of hydrogen as a fuel, and a fleet of hydrogen buses was launched in Aberdeen earlier this year. Thomson, however, argues that using gas can be a “fig leaf” as it is often produced from petroleum.

“What is happening, particularly in the northeast where the importance of oil and the oil companies is so great, hydrogen is becoming a politicized fuel that seemingly clean, renewable and futuristic. But in fact, it is. a way for the oil companies to keep extracting fossil fuels and to say, “It’s OK because we’re going to make hydrogen.”

But electric buses are getting approval from Howden and Thomson, who highlight developments by bus maker Alexander Dennis in Falkirk, whose electric vehicles are in circulation in the UK and abroad.

“Alexander Dennis is an important part of a just transition to a zero emission transportation system where skilled jobs can be created locally and also lead us to cleaner technologies. “

Whatever changes are made, Thomson says the onus is on the infrastructure to be good enough to get people to stop using their cars. “Councils have a responsibility to make the electric bus, foot or bicycle ride more inviting, safe, cheaper and more enjoyable. “

Electric vehicles advance

As of December 2020, there were over 26,000 vehicles registered in Scotland classified as Very Low Emission Vehicles or ULEVs, the majority being either a pure battery electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says that in the 12 months leading up to May 2021, pure battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and range-extending vehicles made up 10.1% of all car sales in Scotland . In December 2020, sales of these vehicles reached 18.5% of new car registrations, with pure battery electric vehicles accounting for 13.3%.

ChargePlace Scotland, the nation’s network of publicly accessible electric vehicle charging points, says it now has nearly 2,100 publicly accessible chargers.

But concerns remain about the cost of electric vehicles, with only half of vehicles being in private hands, compared to nine out of ten cars. The average cost is around £ 44,000, although some approach £ 18,000. However, as more and more products are produced, the cost is expected to drop significantly.

“Range anxiety” is also on the decline, as many cars are now able to travel more than 200 miles between charges.

Think “avoid, change, improve” in order to make travel more ecological

Colin Howden is an advocate for the Avoid, Change, Improve approach to sustainability first developed in Germany in the 1990s.

He says, “Avoidance is about how to get people to avoid traveling – things like video conferencing, working from home… some trips certainly don’t need to be taken. Shift forces people to walk or cycle for short trips, or use public transportation, and shift freight to rail. To improve is [things like] position a fleet of vehicles from fossil to electric.

“It’s all in that order … see if there are options to avoid travel, then if you can change and then if [travel] is needed, what are the efficiencies.


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