Devolution will have as big an impact on the automotive industry and transport as Brexit because of the change in travel behaviour it will produce.
That’s the view of Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, a charitable trust which promotes sustainable transport.
Joseph told delegates at the Fleet News Automotive Outlook 2018 conference that a “patchwork of devolution” has been happening in the UK, with the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; the London mayor and assembly; the six directly elected mayors which chair their area’s combined authority (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the Tees Valley, the West of England and the West Midlands); a number of sub-national bodies, ‘Cornwall’s ‘bespoke’ devolution deal and the ‘city deals’ reached between the local authorities and central Government in places like Cambridge, Glasgow and Cardiff.
This matters to the automotive industry because transport powers and funding are central to all of the devolution deals. Sub-national transport bodies, such as Transport for the North (which will be a statutory body by the end of this year) and Midlands Connect, are responsible for planning transport locally and all deal with roads and traffic.
The devolution deals vary but many have responsibility for so-called ‘key route networks’ (600 miles of road in Greater Manchester, for instance).
Some devolved authorities have set up traffic management centres, giving a view of all the different aspects of transport, and allowing them to manage traffic. They are also responsible for managing parking controls and charges.
Air pollution is a “current and growing issue” for cities and regions, Joseph said, highlighting the mandatory clean air zones, the introduction of the T-charge in central London, which will be replaced with the ultra-low emission zone in 2019, the proposed ‘zero emission zone’ in Oxford city centre and Scotland’s plans to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032 – ahead of the UK Government’s plans to stop the sale of new conventionally-powered cars from 2040.
Joseph also pointed out that Client Earth is taking legal action against the UK Government for a third time as it believes it has not done enough to meet air quality standards (see Fleetnews.co.uk, November 7).
“All of this leads to what I’ve called ‘nightmare on auto street’ where you have different traffic, roads, parking and emissions strategies in different cities and regions, with different standards and different charges, confusion, and complexity for the industry,” Joseph said.
However, he believes that while the automotive sector might feel like “that’s where we are heading”, there are “grounds for hope” as the directly elected mayors are working together to agree common standards. Dealing with devolved authorities might be preferable to working with central Government and there are opportunities for partnership and innovation, and new forms of funding, he added.
“Cities are going to drive forward new mobility models,” Joseph said, pointing out that Transport for the West Midlands has started the first mobility as a service (MaaS) pilot, which sees people’s daily mobility needs being met by a single service.
“Door-to-door seamless transport” will help the UK to compete with other countries and drive investment, according to Joseph. But economic growth doesn’t mean “more and more roads and cars”; cities will need to develop strategies to move away from single occupancy car use.
“Ultimately, this is about smart growth and better transport for all,” he said.