While COP26 saw world leaders take a big step forward in the fight against global warming, “more action is needed in this decisive decade” to stem the impact of climate change, according to under-secretary of state for transport Trudy Harrison.
The challenge for transport is to design a system that is fit for the 21st century and meets the ‘3Cs’ - covid, carbon and convenience – which are guiding Government policy. The post-pandemic recovery will not be car-led, said Harrison.
“We are choosing a transport system fit for the future – a future of world class public transport infrastructure, green travel, accessible to all and the ability to choose from a range of shared, clean green forms of travel,” she told delegates at the winter Smart Transport conference.
The Covid pandemic saw a slump in public transport usage, particularly for commuting purposes, and, even now, train use is only at 65-70% of pre-pandemic levels and business at 80%. However, cycling rose by 46% from 2019 to 2020, the bigger increase in post-war Britain.
“We can’t allow this to be a passing fad,” Harrison said.
The Government is investing to support public transport, although Harrison’s overriding focus is ensuring buses and trains don’t damage the environment.
“We are planning for half of all journeys by 2030, especially in towns and cities, to be active travel, so walking, cycles or scooters,” she added, reiterating the Government pledge of £3bn investment in bus transport and £96bn in rail over the course of the current parliament.
“Infrastructure has to be the main focus: we need to have safe routes to encourage behavioural change. It is important to have smooth road surfaces for cyclists but also for new cars if they are going to be electric and connected.”
E-Scooter trials are underway in 32 UK locations. They are currently not legal but “we want to change that, safely and in a controlled way”, Harrison said. The trials are monitoring, among other things, speed, usage, licencing and use of helmets to inform future legislation.
The Government’s goal is to integrate traditional modes of public transport with new on-demand and micro-mobility travel options to ensure that journey decisions do not automatically default to the private car.
“It’s a collaboration, so I encourage everyone to work with me. This is what will make me and the Government most successful ,” Harrison said.