What the UK can learn from Welsh transport strategy

This post is by Jack Wilkinson-Dix, policy officer at the Energy Saving Trust.

Cutting the carbon emissions of transport, whether in Wales or the rest of the UK, will be a critical challenge in the coming years as the country transitions to net zero. The Welsh government recently published its transport strategy, Llwybr Newydd (New Path), which sets a strategic vision for transport decarbonisation to 2035. This is the culmination of years of engagement with Welsh stakeholders, including through a consultation which the Energy Saving Trust responded to in January 2021.

Transport emissions account for 31 per cent of UK emissions. While the proportion is lower for Wales (18 per cent in 2018), entrenched socioeconomic and structural barriers will make the transition difficult. Decarbonising the transport sector in Wales is also made complex by the devolution settlement, which sees the Welsh government controlling some aspects of transport policy, while Westminster controls others, alongside commercial operators and local government.

Joining up transport modes is a clear commitment
Reducing emissions from transport will require more people to make more journeys by walking, cycling and public transport.. It is therefore positive that the Welsh government’s strategy includes a clear commitment to reduce the number of car trips in Wales by setting a target for 45 per cent of all journeys to be made by public transport or active travel by 2040 (which is double the current share).

There is also a need to integrate transport modes, which means it will be easier for people to switch between cycling, bus, rail and other ways of travelling along their journeys. This is part of making Welsh transport work well for everyone and making active travel and public transport the natural choice. Part of this pitch to the public involves offering incentives to adopt active travel (including electric bicycles) and electric vehicles.

To this end, the Welsh government’s strategy commits to an e-bike pilot scheme, which is expected to run over two years. Slated to start this summer, the pilot will see four e-bike ‘hubs’ established in Rhyl, Swansea, Aberystwyth and Barry, offering “low cost hire and long term loan” of e-bikes.

Despite these positive developments, concrete funding proposals and detailed emission reduction pathways for different transport modes have yet to be revealed. Likewise, local authorities will be critical delivery partners for transport decarbonisation, but there is little detail on how they will be supported to deliver effective services, such as the rapid rollout of electric vehicle chargepoints.

The strategy would be stronger if it tackled transport poverty
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act looms large over Welsh policy making and so it has been positive to see a focus on creating an equitable and accessible transport system that improves wellbeing and prioritises people. The Wales Transport Strategy places these kinds of measures front and centre, with commitments to reduce car use by creating dedicated work hubs and bringing services directly to people, in a similar manner to 15 or 20 minute city principles that have gained traction elsewhere.

There is also a welcome focus on behaviour change, with this being one of three immediate priorities. Wales is well served in the area of climate focused behaviour change, with the world-leading Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations based at Cardiff University.

But there are areas where the strategy could be strengthened. While there was recognition of transport as a social issue and that a lack of access to services can compound existing vulnerabilities, the issue of transport poverty should now be explicitly and officially recognised. The transition to low carbon transport represents a significant change in people’s lives; the delivery of the strategy could be improved with a commitment to create a central advice service to assist households with low carbon transport issues, building on the existing home energy and renewables advice programmes.

The UK government should follow the Welsh example
A number of companion documents are to be released over the summer and autumn, focusing on different transport modes and services. These should provide more of the detail that businesses and the public need. With Welsh Labour having performed strongly in the recent Senedd elections, on a manifesto that prioritised action on transport decarbonisation, the new Welsh government should feel empowered to show more ambition in the delivery of its Transport Strategy.

Successful implementation will require the UK government to invest more in Wales and both administrations should collaborate to make the best use of reserved and devolved powers. The UK government is also due to publish its own Transport Decarbonisation Plan within weeks. It should look to Wales as an example of how to put active and public transport, integration and people’s wellbeing right at its heart.

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