Will the fuel crisis trigger a green transport revolution?

This post is by Helena Bennett, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance.

Amongst the chaos of the fuel crisis, the hours of queuing and the uncertainty of being able to drive, a collective sentience has risen, which questions whether we have to be tethered to petrol anymore.

Car sales advisers have reported that the number of people searching online for electric cars has rocketed, with a 75 per cent increase reported in a week. Sales of e-bikes have shot up too with one seller reporting a 100 per cent increase in enquiries.

Electric vehicles rely on domestic energy that can be charged locally or on the go. They are much cheaper to maintain over their lifespan than cars with internal combustion engines.

These trends build on the already mounting public support for a shift away from petrol and diesel vehicles, but uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) was expected to happen at a much slower rate. The Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) own worst case scenario anticipates that only half of new car sales in 2030 will be EVs, compared to the 97 per cent the Climate Change Committee says we need.

The fuel crisis could be a tipping point for EV manufacturers
Perhaps this fuel crisis will be the tipping point for manufacturers. With such clear indications that the British public are considering the switch, this could be a pivotal moment in how rapidly car companies decide to push their electric models to market. And the more on the market, the more competitive and affordable they will become.

But electric vehicle sales aren’t the only things that have seen an increased interest: Transport for London saw a seven per cent rise in people using its trains this week, and a two per cent increase in people taking the bus.

Our dependence on the car has created a wealth of issues – aside from a reliance on fossil fuels – that could be overcome by shifting how we travel and electrifying vehicles. Dirty air, for example, causes 36,000 premature deaths a year. But switching only 1.7 per cent of our short distance journeys to active travel, could see £2.5 billion in health benefits.

In 2018, the cost of traffic congestion was almost £8 billion, equal to £1,317 per driver. Shifting to public transport, walking or cycling will help to mitigate a large part of these costs, while making the roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

The government should move faster to help
As it stands, the government isn’t moving fast enough on what it can do to help. The 2030 phase out date for sales of new petrol and diesel cars is welcome but, without sales targets for manufacturers and investment in widespread charging infrastructure, uptake rates may fall short of what’s needed to meet the UK’s transport emissions targets. Similarly, there is not enough investment in improving public transport services.

By building a robust public transport and active travel system, our dependency on cars will fall. Paired with the uptake of electric cars, vans, and bikes, travelling around the UK would be a cleaner, greener, healthier and petrol-station-queue free experience.

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