If transport is going to seriously contribute to Net Zero, some seriously big changes are needed – not least a shift in thinking.
For several decades transport policy in the UK and overseas has been fundamentally designed around making car use safer and more convenient. It has shaped our towns, cities and landscapes in fundamental ways, but more than that, it has shaped our transport behaviours, and the way people think about urban and rural space and our place in it. If we allow the conversation to be dominated by the replacement of the car fleet with electric vehicles, we risk remaining trapped in that way of thinking, treating the symptom but not the underlying ailment. The potential to deliver the concept of thriving cities will be compromised.
Creating transportation capable of helping address the climate emergency will mean shaking off those old assumptions and changing the way we think about travel and our relationship to the places where we live. We need to co-ordinate transport and land use policies to re-shape communities, changing behaviour at a deep level by creating liveable places where amenities are just 20-minutes on foot, bike or public transport – properly making active travel and public transport a practical, pleasant and sustainable alternative to the car. In other words, if we’re going to keep people moving today and tomorrow, we must anticipate future mobility needs, and plan for those today.
To achieve the levels of behavioural change necessary to reduce overall travel distances and reach Net Zero, it’s likely that private car use will have to be actively discouraged. This may be through demand management measures such as a reduction in the amount of parking space and an increase in the cost of parking, as well as potentially the introduction of road user charging for all private motorised modes including EVs. This isn’t just about carbon reduction, it’s about congestion mitigation and moving away from the over reliance of single occupancy vehicles to create sustainable, liveable and lovable communities where we wish to spend time to enjoy what the collective community has to offer.
Promoting integrated public and active travel modes can be relatively complex. When a journey involves a bus, a walk, a train or tram and an e-bike or scooter, the time spent planning and co-ordinating can make the jump into a taxi or a private car seem like the simple option. The obvious answer is app-based: a means of linking many and various transport modes into a simple planning tool which seamlessly stitches these services together, whilst providing a single payment option for all of them.
Predicting the future is always problematic, but in this case it is achievable, and as we plan for the future there are bound to be unexpected challenges and opportunities. We are not going into this blind, nor are we complacent, but we simply cannot ignore the climate situation any longer. Together locality by locality, we will create liveable, healthy, and lovable communities where we will be proud to live and interact with the people, facilities and play spaces around us.