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Fewer car journeys - the only way forward

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

I sense a widespread but misplaced belief that electric cars will be an environmental panacea. They will help, but electrification of our vehicles will not be enough to solve transport's contribution to climate change, largely because of the energy used in their production, not to mention problems associated with mining the raw materials needed for the batteries.

The simple truth is that we need to make fewer private car journeys. To achieve this, we need to decide whether to make them more expensive, more difficult or both. The good news, to balance this inconvenient truth, is that by doing so we can achieve a much more efficient public transport network to keep us on the move.

Almost 50% of our district's carbon emissions come from transport, which represents a huge challenge, given the urgent need to decarbonise our world. It is refreshing that the realisation of this need is now a mainstream view. Unfortunately, when it comes to formulating policies, our thinking is still too fragmented and piecemeal. Planning for a stable and healthy environment is key to everything else that mankind stands for, yet "the environment" is generally treated as just another policy area, competing with issues such as health, education and transport. So, whilst there are good environmental policies, there are other policies which can have a contradictory effect.

Transport for the North (TfN), has the potential to profoundly affect travel in our region but they are currently giving mixed messages. They have produced an impressive decarbonisation strategy for consultation - that can be accessed from their website - which recognises a significant policy gap between the current trajectory and what is actually needed. It also recognises that demand management will be key to addressing this gap. However, their Strategic Transport Plan focuses much more on connectivity and economic growth, than environmental safeguarding, with no mention of how to manage this demand or any acknowledgement that this may be a problem, even though they also state that demand for road travel could be 54% higher by 2050.

TfN is also involved in plans within our district to increase the rate at which cars can access the A1(M) at the A59 junction, which will act to increase capacity. Increasing road capacity, in the absence of price constraints, leads to increased use, known as "induced traffic", which is the exact opposite of demand management. Fortunately, the opposite exists whereby reducing capacity leads to "traffic evaporation". This could be because trickier car journeys promote a shift to active or public transport or cause people to make fewer but more efficient journeys. It is why closing rat-runs or reducing Station Parade to a single lane has such potential to improve our surroundings without creating further congestion.

Traffic congestion is miserable and shouldn’t be used as the lever to reduce car journeys. This would be better achieved through widespread road pricing. The money raised could fund cheaper and better public transport, making it realistic for many more people to opt against car ownership and the considerable costs associated with it.

We can improve quality of life by adding a modicum of inconvenience to our car use and we can create a more equitable society, with the opportunity to save money, by increasing the cost of car use! We need policy makers brave enough to see past these apparent paradoxes, especially when there is the additional carrot of a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.

Rod Beardshall


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