I read with great interest a report from a group of parliamentarians last month saying that technology alone cannot solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from transport. It echoes a report from an Oxford-based group of academics who warned that even electric cars produce pollution through their tyres and brakes. They also noted that it is older drivers who are using cars more. Trends in transport are changing.
It made me think that the biggest challenge ahead is not just to get drivers to choose electric or low emission vehicles, but to change the way they use them. If the MP’s are to be believed, we will all have to drive less and get out of our cars whatever their means of propulsion. Have they given up on new car technology before we have started using it in numbers?
At IAM RoadSmart we believe that promoting sustainable driving techniques is important, but it would seem that anything we do, may not be enough. If anyone thinks the shift to low emission vehicles will be a difficult message to get over, then it will be even tougher to change ingrained travel habits that are built around personal vehicle ownership.
As things stand today new cars have never been cleaner or greener, but electric vehicles are still too expensive, and don’t have the charging infrastructure in place yet.
Public transport is already overcrowded and getting around on foot or by bike can be a real challenge.
Change is coming, but it’s the pace of change that will become the biggest talking point in transport in the years ahead. If we get this wrong the economy and the environment will suffer as congestion grows, and public transport struggles to bear the extra burden. Any rush to reallocate road space from motor vehicles to cycling or buses, rather than building new infrastructure could lead to real local problems.
For IAM RoadSmart and its members, these challenges are real and are coming fast. The question now is not just, can you live with a smaller car or an electric one, but can you live without one at all? For some, the answer may be yes, but for many, it will involve huge lifestyle changes based around where they live and work, and how well connected they are.
Can you survive using car sharing, car hire and taxis?
At IAM RoadSmart we believe the committee has underestimated the power of new technology to solve pollution in cars. It has, however, highlighted the key issues in the coming debate and whether we like it or not, it is up to all of us to answer these difficult questions, sooner rather than later.
Neil Greig, policy and research director