Come the next general election, green transport will be a key political battleground.
For fleets, the parties’ policies could mean the difference between efficiencies, better transport systems and lower emissions or travel chaos, red tape and huge cost increases.
With the pronouncements, reports and opinions of all sides of Westminster on environmental topics it’s sometimes difficult to work out who believes in what, so we’ve done the work for you and sifted through the detail – or lack – of each party’s policies on key areas in green transport.
1. Road Pricing
The government loved road pricing.
Then it wasn’t so sure when the scale and cost of the project became apparent and businesses, whose higher mileage than average drivers would be heavily affected by the extra cost burden, railed against the proposals.
But now it seems to be on the agenda again – or it was before the vast injections of capital into the banking system left the government with a huge borrowing legacy that might make the set-up costs unpalatable.
Currently eight local authorities will be involved in trials to limit congestion at its worst hours.
These will begin in 2010, while Manchester’s road pricing scheme will shortly be put to a referendum of voters in the 10 participating council areas.
The government has provisionally agreed to invest £1.5 billion in improved public transport in return for the introduction of the scheme.
The Conservatives are unequivocal on road pricing.
They hate all its big brother connotations and the notion of governmental meddling in people’s and businesses’ daily affairs.
If they get into power it would be dropped quickly.
Leader David Cameron called it mis-guided, an IT disaster waiting to happen, and a step too far for Labour’s surveillance state.
He asked why we would want to be tracked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and trust it to be managed by a government which had let the personal details of every family get lost in the post.
The Liberal Democrats are lukewarm on the subject of road pricing, but recognise that it could play a part in lowering motoring emission.
They would like to see those whose journeys must be made by car rewarded for driving cars with lower emissions, and eventually freed from VED altogether.
VED would be replaced by a system of emissions-based road pricing (for motorways and trunk roads), alongside a cut in fuel duty.
Labour was very keen on biofuels. Now it’s not.
Following acres of bad press about the strain biofuel production was putting on food prices, land use, rainforests and orang-utans, a recent consultation document by the new roads minister, Andrew Adonis, said that 5% of fuels sold on UK forecourts should be from biofuels by 2013-14.
Previously, the target for this was 2010-11.
The government still supports the EU’s target of 10% of all fuel sales being biofuel by 2020, as long as they can be delivered sustainably.
Mr Adonis said: “We need to take a more cautious approach to biofuels.”
The Tories believe that biofuels will play an important part in lowering CO2 emissions from road transport, but only as long as they come from sustainable sources.
Mr Cameron likes the sound of mixing new generation technologies – especially biofuel hybrids.
The Liberal Democrats say any commitment to renewable fuels will require safeguards to ensure that fuels do not come from crops which have displaced rainforest and other valuable natural habitats and carbon sinks.
They support sustainability criteria for biofuels used to meet EU renewable energy targets.
These would exclude from use any that are produced on land cleared of natural habitats or fail to save 50% more carbon emissions in comparison to conventional fuels.
The sustainability protocols should be drawn up in such a way as to avoid accusations of protectionism.
They would oppose any move towards differential subsidy of first-generation biofuels similar to those introduced in the United States.
3. Alternative Transport
If as much action had been put into alternative transport by the current government as has been put into writing about it, then we would all be scooting about on emission-free hover boots by now.
Trying to untangle opinions, plans and options from consultations, projects, sub-committees, white papers and so forth on ‘What Is To Be Done’ is almost impossible.
Here’s an overview of Labour’s claims on alternatives to the cars:
The decline in use of the railway has been reversed.
Local authorities have made much progress in delivering successful local transport packages, although experience, particularly in terms of bus patronage, has been varied across the country.
London has shown what can be done to promote bus use and cycling,
It wants to put a price on carbon: “This can be achieved through tax or through trading mechanisms and will ensure that people are faced with the full social cost of their actions, leading individuals and businesses to prioritise and make informed choices on goods and services.”
It believes in good public transport and better urban design, reliable information, labelling and sharing best practice to help people and businesses make sound decisions and stimulate markets for low carbon and high efficiency goods and services.
And longer train platforms too.
No more bullying.
That’s Mr Cameron’s plan for alternative transport.
He believes the Transport Innovation Fund is forcing towns and cities into congestion charging.
Instead, the Conservatives would free up that funding for innovative local solutions on issues like buses and cycling, while tackling overcrowding on trains, claiming that you cannot tempt people out of their cars and on to trains if they can’t physically squeeze into the carriages.
The Conservatives also want Britain to be the world leader in hydrogen fuel cell or battery powered cars, and get there soon, and in large numbers.
The Conservatives also want longer rail platforms.
The Liberal Democrats want local councils to adopt ‘smarter travel’ measures as its councils have.
It claims initiatives such as personal travel planning will reduce car driver trips typically by 9-14% and reduce the distance travelled by car by up to 15%.
They would use local transport planning to promote the adoption of sustainable transport methods, including cycling, walking, innovative ways to reduce congestion and pollution, and to vigorously promote alternatives to the need to travel.
No noticeable opinion on platforms.
Green taxation has been a core element of the Labour government and would continue to be.
At the moment, it seems fairly happy with the state of company car tax and the effect it has had on lowering drivers’ average CO2 emissions.
There are no published plans to radically alter it or make it even more penurious.
Having dealt a blow to CO2 emissions, the next step may well be to look at ways of taxing people out of higher-emitting NOx cars, although it may let EU regulations do this.
As for VED, it liked the idea of making the highest emitting cars, even old ones, pay significantly more. Now it’s not so sure, and it looks as though the highest £455 rates will now only apply to new cars.
The Conservatives believe the use of green taxes to change behaviour gives them a bad name because they are just seen as a way of raising revenue.
Low on detail but high in concept, Mr Cameron said: “We will be different. We understand that green taxes, properly used, are a key way of encouraging investment in – and take-up of – green technologies.
"We also believe that any revenue raised should be offset by tax reductions elsewhere – higher taxes on the things we want to discourage, like pollution, and lower taxes on the things we want to support, like families.
“With a Conservative government every additional penny raised from green taxes will go into a separate pot – a family fund to finance tax relief for families.
"Green taxes as replacement taxes, not new taxes.”
The Liberal Democrats eschew Mr Cameron’s more ‘ethereal’ tax concept with an actual plan.
They would introduce a more steeply graduating ‘showroom’ tax to financially reward those who purchase cars with low emission engines.
Bands G and F will carry a higher tax burden at the point of purchase (some have suggested this figure could reach into the thousands), while those who purchase cars in bands A or B will receive a substantial subsidy.
5. Emissions targets
Labour is right behind the EU on this one: backing the proposed target of 130g/km CO2 by 2012 as the fentire range average for each car maker across the EU for all new cars.
Longer term, the government wants the EU to adopt stricter targets of 100g/km CO2 by 2020.
However, with the number of lower sales, higher-emission car manufacturers in the UK, it is keen on provisions in the EU proposals for varying the targets according to volume.
The Conservative Party wants to bring the average emission level down to 100g/km CO2 for new cars by 2022, and for all cars on Britain’s roads by 2030.
It believes hybrid engines, fuel cells, biofuels technology and new generation diesel vehicles will be vital, while national government, local government, vehicle manufacturers, employers and individuals can all play a part.
It says the government’s task would be to stimulate demand through a range of, as yet unclear, incentives.
According to the Lib Dems, towards 2030 reductions of around 50% in overall emissions are achievable, with the largest contribution likely to come from vehicle technologies including battery-electric hybrids, and small reductions from both lower carbon fuels and more environmentally-aware consumer behaviour.
The Liberal Democrats would promote and support British research and development into new low carbon technologies.
The party would introduce mandatory EU average vehicle emissions targets – 120g/km by 2015,
95g/km by 2020 and zero carbon for all new cars by 2040 by technical means alone – backed up by a system of penalties and incentives.