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Smart transport must have climate at the centre of its thinking

Inner London skyline

Fleets, politicians and policymakers must work together to make urban areas cleaner, healthier and more prosperous in the future. Poor air quality is estimated to contribute to more than 40,000 premature deaths across the UK each year, with many cities either introducing or investigating the implementation of clean air zones (CAZs) to tackle this.

However, to accelerate an improvement in air quality and a reduction in CO2 emissions, action should be taken to intensify the adoption of zero emission electric vehicles (EVs), says Caroline Watson, programme director at C40 Cities, which is a network of 94 cities across the globe who are committed to addressing climate change.

“If we are going to have smart transport, it is really going to have to have climate at its centre, otherwise it isn’t smart transport,” she says.

“My key message for any policymaker is that science is telling us that every single policy decision we make needs to be in the context of how it can accelerate our transition to zero emission vehicles.

“We can’t just have climate change as an add-on issue that we talk about on Friday, but we haven’t even thought about it on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It needs to be at the heart of every policy decision.

“In a similar message to the private sector, every investment decision made needs to consider how it protects their business in a zero emission future.

“For example, if a business has just bought a new fleet of diesel vehicles, what are the residual values going to be like in a few years’ time when they are trying to sell them? It’s a serious business consideration about how they are investing their funds.

“But there is also a moral question: how can you be part of the solution and not the problem?”

The C40 cities, which include London, Manchester and Oxford, have committed to transform their streets into greener, healthier and more prosperous places to live.

To meet these aims, Transport for London (TfL)has set up a Healthy Streets for London initiative, with its approach embedded in all the London mayor’s statutory strategies.

This includes reducing traffic, pollution and noise to create more people-friendly streets, and, while the widespread adoption of EVs will help, much more needs to be done, says Lucy Saunders, who developed Healthy Streets for London.

“Is the electric vehicle the silver bullet that will solve all of the problems that are posed and the issues that we face? It’s not, unfortunately, but there isn’t one,” Saunders says.

“It is part of the solution though. So I think it is really important we remember the valuable role that EVs play in this conversation, but that we also very quickly move on to the much broader conversation of all the other ways in which technology can help to support the Healthy Streets vision.”

Saunders adds: “It’s not that cars or vans or lorries or buses are a problem, how we choose to manage the way they are stored and moved around our streets is the issue that underpins the health issues we are facing.

“It’s not the single, exclusive role of the transport sector to deliver our vision, because how our streets look and feel, how they function is a multi-stakeholder task and it requires a whole load of people to work together towards a shared vision.

“Our overarching principle is that we are trying to deliver a street environment that works well from everyone’s point of view and to try to get there as fast as we can.

“The way we get there is about working with industry about what is feasible, when it’s feasible and what support is needed to make some changes happen.

“Our approach is not an idealistic panacea that every street in London is going to be like paradise in five years’ time and we are going to do that by completely ignoring the fact that the city needs to function and people need to move things around.”

Mobility as a Service

One of the developments which could have a significant change in the way people and goods move around is the dawn of mobility as a service (MaaS).

This includes moving away from personally-owned modes of transport towards using mobility solutions, such as train, bus, bicycle, taxi or walking, which are used as a service.

This does not yet exist in the UK, says Matt Dale, head of consultancy, fleet consultancy services at ALD Automotive.

“We have mobility on demand, we have taxis, we have trains, we have buses,” he says. “What we can’t do is walk out of our house in the morning, tell an app where we’re going, and the person driving down the road pulls over and gives us a lift to the station. We would then get off the train at the other end, and share a taxi or car with somebody we may not know, but is going to the same place. 

“That really doesn’t exist yet, so while we can focus on it for the future, we have to be a little bit careful how we talk about it and implement it.”

He adds: “We need to change our reliance on cars. At the moment we have a lot of ideas, but we still need a major shift in social attitude to bring some of these ideas to reality.”

This responsibility for a shift into cleaner transport modes falls on everyone’s shoulders – businesses, politicians, policymakers, residents, families and communities – says Watson.

“We’ve seen what the science says, we know what the urgency is, all we really need is the political and personal will to make this happen,” she adds.

“It really is a virtuous circle of us all working together, of us all taking responsibility. Too often we hear excuses why something can’t be done, and it really needs to be all of us demanding it of each other.”

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