Addressing five key challenges to achieving net zero transport

 

Stephen Bennett, Chair of the Transport Planning Society  has some pointers for the new Cabinet on how to speed up the switch to low-carbon transport

In June, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming. The requirement is to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Hardened critics say the phase-out is too late to protect the climate and others fear the task is a pipe dream. Irrespective of the vision there is a vast amount of uncertainty as to what the next 30 years will look like. What is in no doubt however is that reaching the new goal will not be easy as the country will have to wean itself completely off fossil fuels including natural gas, diesel and petrol.

The challenge is further compounded when we consider that transport, traditionally perceived as a laggard when it comes to environmental matters, is currently the UK's biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions - 23 per cent according to The Climate Group. Indeed, if we are to achieve the net zero target the transport industry will need to draw on all of its skills and experience to reduce the emissions of individual vehicles and the demand for motorised transport. This will mean tacking five major barriers:

1.  Petrol and Diesel Cars

There are currently only about 210,000 electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK; about one per cent of households use an all-electric car and about two per cent hybrids. This means tens of millions of cars will have to be replaced. This is an enormous shift in cultural behaviour - as big as we have seen since combustion engines first became mainstream. But transport planners can help by urgently planning to support the mass roll out of electric vehicles via increased charging points on roads, as well as in car parks and commercial developments.

The recent government announcement for new-build homes to be fitted with their own EV charging point is an excellent first step. The legislation would be a world first and would acknowledge the need to substantially increase the usage of EVs. We also need policies to support this shift, such as Clean Air Zones and restrictions on non-electric vehicles in urban centres.

2.  Infrastructure for sustainable travel 

EVs will be critical to attaining the net zero target but we also need to create an infrastructure fit-for-purpose. We will need to provide high-quality walking and cycling routes as alternatives to the car, while ensuring that new developments are designed with convenient access to public transport. This is not new, of course, but there is an invigorated urgency to focus on these outcomes even more strongly.

We must create places where people can live, work and play without being dependent on or impacted by the negative effects of cars, in particular.

3.  Technology

The net zero target represents a major opportunity for the UK technology sector to further cement its already burgeoning reputation as a world leader in digitisation and innovation. Our thriving start-up scene already contains hundreds of businesses that have been created specifically to address challenges achieving net zero will bring. On a macro level, technologies like Internet of Things, cloud adoption and artificial intelligence will help make manufacturing and heavy industry much more efficient, while creating a data-driven energy revolution that will help scientists model the climate more effectively.

We're already seeing technology enabling and improving transport through automated ticketing and contactless payments, both of which are fuelling the collection of data to understand more about people's journeys and improve transport planning. While technology is creating clarity over real-time customer information, it is also making the future more uncertain for transport planners, less able to predict what the next innovation will be. To counter this, transport planners need to move from a ‘predict and provide' model to ‘decide and provide', where transport planners actively decide the future and provide for it.

4.  Skills

To deliver on the net zero goal, we're going to need people to make significant changes to their travel behaviour and be truly invested in the process. This means a greater focus on education and training so we can build a workforce necessary to fast-track new technologies and support the transition to a future of zero carbon transport.

Businesses can help by providing a full spectrum of training opportunities from apprenticeships to bespoke and commercial courses. In education, this will mean an increased focus on STEM subjects and greater attention to areas likely to be influential in the long-term such as; engineering, planning and problem solving. Soft skills too will be vital given the role transport plays in connecting people and the need to engage communities in transport decision-making. This means placing a higher stock on traits like empathy and understanding. And we need a more diverse work force to bring new perspectives and ideas to the profession.

5.  Policy 

Only last month, the previous business secretary Greg Clark announced £80m of funding for EV and aircraft projects, and unveiled a £60m sustainable plastics challenge. Going back further we can cite the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone in London - something we would expect to see rolled-out in other UK cities in the future. What will also likely change in the coming years is the way we pay for using roads. London is likely to make the congestion charge more responsive to things like the type of vehicle, time of day and local levels of congestion.

Other cities and towns need to seriously look at road user charging as a way of achieving net zero. Looking at public transport, getting more people using buses has to be a key element of any credible net zero plan. Now with a new Transport Secretary in post, there is an opportunity for government to show bold leadership in this area.

Transport, and transport planning, is critical to achieving the government's net zero target, so this should signal an end to stop-start funding for urban transport to a stable vision which enables us to put long-term plans in place for decarbonisation of this sector. If we are bold and ambitious, we can help shift the transport system to one that truly supports a reduction in emissions and one that improves air quality. Aside from its contribution to hitting net zero, this will have much wider benefits for people, by improving health outcomes, creating great streets, great urban centres, great transport hubs, and great places to live.

Stephen Bennett is chair of the Transport Planning Society

This blog was produced as part of the Transport Planning Day campaign and published in Business Green. 

https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/opinion/3080198/addressing-five-key-challenges-to-achieving-net-zero

 

 
 
 
 

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