Smarter Cambridge Transport

Are the climate recommendations bold enough?

The Independent Commission on Climate’s Initial Recommendations report is the starting gun for radical changes to local land use, water, energy, transport and construction. Of those, transport is the biggie: nearly half of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s carbon emissions are from surface transport and, pre-COVID, were still rising.

The report’s recommendations are good, indeed necessary. They include phasing out petrol/diesel cars by 2050 (following cessation of sales in 2030); more charging points for electric vehicles and reinforcement of the electricity grid; all buses, taxis, home-delivery and council vehicles to be zero-emissions by 2030; more cycling infrastructure; more car-sharing; new freight consolidation centres; and road investment to be de-prioritised.

Will our councils deliver? Most of the above is on their to-do list, but their top priorities are still the ‘metro’, busways and road upgrades, which have consumed most of the hundreds of millions of pounds spent by the Greater Cambridge Partnership and Combined Authority over the past five years.

Is it enough? The stated aim is to reduce annual vehicle-miles by 15% by 2030. However, we must cut carbon emissions in half by 2030. The only way to do that is to reduce vehicle-miles by about half. That’s because most mileage during the next ten years will be in petrol/diesel vehicles on the road now and still being manufactured.

We need to do much more than just shift some commutes from private cars to cycling, public transport and ride-sharing. We need to reduce the need to travel by car, in part by bringing work, retail, leisure and culture closer to home: more co-working spaces with childcare facilities; more space for markets; more venues for touring music, theatre and comedy; more youth centres and sports facilities. We need electric club cars everywhere for occasional longer trips; we need safe and affordable shared taxis to fill gaps in public transport. Less popularly, we need road pricing to disincentivise solo driving, and to fund public transport.

The final report must set out a much more detailed and realistic vision of zero-carbon transport; otherwise, people will believe electric vehicles and a whizzy new metro are the solution. They are not.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 31 March 2021.

You can watch a presentation by Edward Leigh on How to De-carbonise Transport, given as part of the Cambridge Zero Climate Change Festival 2020:

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.

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