Dear Boris: please give us clean transport
This post is by Greg Archer, UK director at Transport and Environment
Now that you can finally “Get Brexit Done”, please could you also quickly sort out the appalling emissions from transport? It’s the UK’s biggest source of CO2 and causes 98 per cent of the country’s toxic air hotspots.
Here is an early to do list to get you started:
1. Stop making the problems worse. The £28 billion you have set aside for new road lanes will just make the UK’s CO2 and air quality problem worse. Instead, a Road Traffic Reduction Bill would reduce congestion and emissions. With the money saved on building roads you could reinstate the £400 million cut from bus services. With so many new supporters in the north, committing to one electric bus town won’t be enough. Instead every new bus should be zero emission by 2023. You could also raise the £350 million that you’ve committed to encourage cycle commuting, which would further improve health, reduce traffic and tackle pollution.
2. A raft of measures exist that would bring down the demand for flying and avoid the need for that third runway at Heathrow or new terminals elsewhere. A frequent flier levy, introducing VAT on tickets and taxing kerosene would be a good start. The Climate Change Committee are also still waiting for a response to their letter about tackling runaway aviation emissions. Both international aviation and shipping emissions must be included in the UK’s carbon budget.
3. Your manifesto is full of promises on how to sort out the railways, but is very short on detail. With the £81 billion HS2 is costing you could fund dozens of local sustainable transport projects so I suggest you pull the plug now before the bulldozers start ripping up ancient woodlands. All the engineers that were going to build new roads and HS2 could be put to much better use on building a multitude of local sustainable transport schemes that make travelling easier for everyone.
4. The UK will be a far more attractive place to build electric vehicles if we have the biggest market in Europe. But this doesn’t just happen by itself. Agreeing to end sales of cars with engines within a decade would be a great legacy. Making sure drivers can charge their cars close to their homes would persuade many more buyers to switch. And don’t scrap electric car grants in March just as the market is taking off. Why not reform taxes on cars with engines to pay for them instead? You could also steal Labour’s idea to expand electric car clubs so we have fewer cars on the road, as well as better ones.
5. Finally, there would be less pressure on hospital beds if there weren’t so many people poisoned by toxic air. As London Mayor you made real progress tackling air pollution, so now you have the chance to take the same bold stance across the UK. This would mean making sure there are standards in the Environmental Bill that protect health and cannot be retrospectively weakened if they cannot be met. A complementary Clean Air Act should tackle the main cause: traffic.
You have been clear, in your manifesto and speeches, that you want to draw a line under past Conservative governments and be different. This should include transport. More of the same, with more roads, more runways and just one fast rail line, is not the change we need for this century. In a year’s time, the UK will host the next climate talks. We need to raise the bar and get much more done, especially after the failures in Madrid, to prevent a climate catastrophe that will affect us all. Tackling the UK’s transport problems and emissions is a great place to start: thinking global, acting local. People across the UK will thank you.