The government has no plan for decarbonising transport

There is much excitement in the transport sector, as the government has finally announced that they have published the long-awaited Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Social media is full of ministers with fancy videos claiming that they are doing something significant.

So I rushed to the Department for Transport section of and read what they have published. And I’m afraid it will be a massive disappointment.

There is no plan to decarbonise transport.

The government has not published any new actions that it will be taking to decarbonise transport. There is no plan for modal shift, there is no plan for decarbonisation of individual polluting modes and sectors. The government have made no commitments and have no policies.

For all their talk, Grant Shapps and his ministers are doing nothing at all to decarbonise transport in the UK. It’s business as usual on the Department for Transport website.

Control your message

I am, of course, being tediously faux naive for an annoying rhetorical effect.

What the DfT have actually done is follow their established and predictable media strategy of putting out a press release, fancy social media and a statement saying they’ve published something, but conveniently neglected to actually publish it until sometime much later, hoping to saturate media with their selected talking points for long enough that the story is old news before anybody has the actual substance in their hands to read, report, scrutinise and respond to.

This kind of media strategy is insulting at the best of times.

At a time when people are desperate to hear some actual substance about how we’re going to get through the crisis we face, it deserves to be treated with the contempt that it shows us.

So please, when the DfT try to use you like this, if you’re going to run with it, at least tell it like it is. The government is all talk. It has no plan to decarbonise transport.

It’s all good / Embrace life

Isn’t it weird how everyone’s getting so fat and dying of cardiovascular disease and cancers and diabetes? Why is that? I guess it’s genetics or something.

Meanwhile, I stumbled upon this in a folder of old unprocessed pictures. It was on New Cross Road back when I lived in that part of the world. There are a lot of billboards along the Old Kent and New Cross Roads, targeting the motorists who pass though, destroying and polluting other people’s neighbourhoods. Whether governments try to change our behaviour or not, you can bet that commercial interests will be doing their best, explicitly or subtly, and even by ensuring that our choices are restricted.

On the lower advert you can see a government nudge: the provision of information about the fuel efficiency of the car being advertised. The HoL Sci & Tech Committee report on behavioural change commented on this “information deficit” model of harmful behaviour, concluding that information provision on its own is generally insufficient to lead to behavioural change (though it can help to pave the way for more robust interventions). The real barriers to a low-carbon lifestyle are bigger than a lack of information about fuel use.

A more helpful move might be to prevent advertisers from making such absurd claims as that junk food is “all good” or that cars are anything other than life-sucking parasites. We don’t let tobacco and alcohol companies do it.

Government wakes from electric dream

So Philip Hammond’s policy — his one lonely policy* — of encouraging people to drive electric vehicles has been cut.  The government are still wasting money giving £5,000 subsidies to people who are already able to afford expensive new electric cars (though it will be interesting to see how much longer that lasts), but they will no longer be building a network of charging points, instead leaving owners to charge their vehicles at home.  The greenest ever government can’t even be bothered to keep up its greenwash.

The electric vehicles policy was never ambitious, and at best stretching the definition of “green”.  It envisioned replacing internal-combustion (ICE) vehicles with electric vehicles by 2050.  That’s forty years.  The twenty year old book that arrived on friday arguing for cycling as a political priority was already noting the overwhelming evidence for climate change and the need to do something about it.  For twenty years we’ve faffed around doing not much, and the government proposes that we leisurely carry on for another forty.  Never mind the fact that we have less than half that time to completely decarbonise if we are to avoid catastrophe.

And the extent to which electric vehicles are green also depends, of course, on how green their manufacture and the generation of their power is.  Our electricity, still mostly produced by burning a lot of imported coal and gas, is considerably greener than burning a lot of imported refined oil, but it’s not green enough to avert catastrophe if we don’t decarbonise it in the next couple of decades — a project that is already way behind schedule.  Even when we do decarbonise, the more we rely on electricity, the more dams, barrages, wind turbines, nuclear plants, and, least welcome of all, pylons we need to accommodate.

Of course, carbon is the only thing that matters about transport, right?  When I worked in a London office I would enjoy many a fun argument about people who chose to drive in London: “ah, but somebody who drives a little hatchback back and forth in zone 1 & 2 might have a smaller carbon footprint than somebody who commutes from Brighton or Bath by train every day.”**

Even if electric vehicles did solve the carbon problem, they would solve none of the others associated with car use — the nascent sedentary-lifestyle-related public health crises, the ongoing road danger scandal, the waste of urban land and spoiling of urban environment, the deleterious development patterns that exist in symbiosis with car dependency.  EVs do admittedly have one less method of directly producing air pollution.  Problems that can all be solved by shifting shifting journeys to active transport.

Active transport remains suppressed by political policy.  The lack of support for the types of interventions that are proven to work at enabling journeys to be switched to being made by bicycle; and the continuing policies that prioritise the motor vehicle and prevent pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streets, as epitomised by Blackfriars Bridge, amount to government suppression of cycling and walking.

If we are to meet our carbon deadlines — not “targets”, deadlines — we need a plan that would, by 2030, tear down the barriers that all over the country are preventing people cycling.  That is, primarily, the environment.  Most people will never cycle on the streets as they are now.  We must change the streets, and we haven’t got time to faff around about it.

It’s not like Philip Hammond has any other policies to pursue.

(Consider that our cycling mayor, from the party that gave us the greenest ever government, is father of a cycling revolution which he hopes to give London an embarrassing 5% modal share for cycling by 2030 — an achievement that he intends to make at the same time as maintaining motor traffic flow at current level and without any meaningful changes to London’s streets.)

* I’m giving High Speed Rail to Osborne and Danny Alexander, since it’s they who will pull the plug when the time comes.

** Indeed, it is because of these arguments that I spend so much time discussing all of the other problems with motorised road transport and all of the other reasons to support the alternatives, and rarely mention the carbon and climate issue.

Association of British Drivers “not a bunch of fanatics”

The ABD tries very hard but is often dismissed as a bunch of fanatics and speed freaks (which it is are not) [sic]. — Honest John

The Association of British Drivers — the group that is to mainstream motoring organisations what time cube is to mainstream cults — have made the shock move of saying something that isn’t totally batshit insane: the government should scrap £5k ‘gift’ to buyers of £25k electric cars.

It’s true.  If the government wants to meet its carbon targets and make the world a nicer place in the process, there are far more effective things it can do with the money than help buy toys for the rich.  While they’re at it, instead of funding EV charging infrastructure, there’s another kind of transport infrastructure they could fund that would make a much bigger impact…

Fortunately the ABD have saved their reputation for a laugh on every page with the excellent line “leaving aside the considerable doubt that CO₂ has any significant impact on climate change…

Ah.  “Not a bunch of fanatics…”

Like most ABD press releases, the most coverage this achieved was to be churned on a couple of obscure trade press blogs.  Still, more than can be said for their previous comedy offering, which was ignored completely: 20mph too slow for Blackfriars Bridge.

Memo to Philip Hammond: Hoverboards project

Continuing the 1963 Buchanan Report on the future of transport in towns, over the page:

A development which may offer a more direct challenge to the motor car, assuming the problem of noise can be overcome, is the air-cushion craft.  It seems to give scope for development of a small personal machine, useable perhaps eventually on ordinary pavements as a substitute for walking.  Yet it may be questioned whether it would really take this form, whether the urge to put a perspex cover over it for weather protection, to use it at higher speeds, to add extra seats, and to affix luggage containers, would not soon convert it into a motor car in all respects but the possession of wheels.

[…] It may have a different source of motive power so that it is no longer strictly a motor vehicle, it may be quieter and without fumes, it may be styled in some quite different way, it may be produced in smaller forms, it may be guided in certain streets by electronic means, it may have the ability to perform sideways movements, but for practical purposes it will present most of the problems that are presented by the motor vehicle today.

These days if you drop a criticism of car addiction into a conversation somebody will be there with a defence of car use: you could have the bigger carbon footprint.  Somebody driving their compact fuel efficient car to the shops once a week might have a smaller carbon footprint than somebody taking daily long-distance rail trips.  Congestion?  Sure, but that won’t make much of a difference to their carbon footprint.  They might drive into somebody?  Sure, but that won’t make much of a difference to their carbon footprint.  Particulate pollution?  That’s not a greenhouse gas.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that there were already multiple major problems with our transport and town planning long before we discovered our CO2 problem.  We need a solution to them all, not an excuse to ignore all but one.

(With a tip of the hat to Carlton Reid, whose joke I’m stealing.)

In pictures: Britain’s once proud stations

A petrol station on Clerkenwell Road has been turned into a cinema.  This is a disaster; an act of war on the Motorist that must be condemned.  The BBC’s Andrew Sully explains why this epidemic of sudden garage death should be such a worry to us.

Firstly, there’s the fact that the petrol station, like the post office and the village shop, is a traditional hub of the community.  I don’t know about you, but I have many fond childhood memories of trundling down to the outskirts of the village to pick up the daily pint of engine oil and sometimes, as a treat, one of those T-shaped plastic things with the rubber and sponge that everybody suspects is supposed to be useful for something, possibly in relation to the windscreen, but nobody has ever quite worked out what.  Certainly, in my village, when given the choice between hanging out by the bus stop on the village green or standing about breathing in the fumes in Mr Whatshisname’s filling station, the local youths knew the cool place to go.  Everyone in the village knew Mr Thinggy, behind the counter.  He was like part of the family.

The Cineroleum: stealing petrol from the prospective drivers of the Alfa Romeo (advertised, left) and Ford Focus (advertised, right) - click image to embiggen

Ray Holloway, chairman of The Petrol Retailers Association, says: “Motorists are now noticing gaps in fuel availability and if it gets worse, as expected, they will certainly be inconvenienced when searching for a forecourt in some areas.”

Christ.  Not more inconvenience to the Motorist.  But this should not just be of concern to the poor hard done by Motorist.  This is an environmental catastrophe:

“And the environmental effect of having to travel extra miles just to fill your car is also considerable.”

This is why The War On The Motorist is so damaging: making driving difficult is bad for the environment.  We must provide more wide and fast roads so that Motorists are not forced to destroy the environment waiting in congestion.  We must put up multi-story car parks in popular parts of town, and give over our streets to free parking, so that Motorists are not forced to destroy the environment driving in circles looking for somewhere they don’t have to pay to park.  And we must have a dense network of filling stations throughout the country, and they must all offer cheap fuel, so that Motorists are not forced to destroy the environment driving fifty miles in the hope that the fuel on the other side might be a fraction of a penny cheaper.

Why can people not see that this is the only sustainable thing to do?

When Greenpeace closed down BP’s London filling stations last month, the newspapers reported that Motorists “understood the anger against BP but were annoyed at the inconvenience caused.”  What the newspapers, who are clearly all in the pocket of Greenpeace, refused to discuss is the fact that the Motorists who were inconvenienced by the protests would have to drive up to two miles further to fill up their tanks, possibly getting stuck in traffic on the way, and that this is bad for the environment.  The entire Greenpeace exercise was self-defeating, the Daily Mail commenters brilliantly realised, because it would cause climate change, not solve it.  What an embarrassing mistake for the protesters.

The logic is simply indisputable.  We must end the War On The Motorist in order to save the planet.  That means more roads, bigger roads, abundant free parking, and the extension of government subsidies for petrol stations.

As the BBC article concludes:

Whatever drives independent petrol station owners out of the business, even non-motorists miss them when they’re gone.

Indeed.  When you think of the alternatives…