With initiatives like ULEZ in London happening now, this is a unique moment to set ambitious plans for clean air zones and plan city centres so that citizens and not cars, are the priority. Encouraging more active travel including walking and cycling, as well as public transport and electric cars, benefits everyone both financially and with improved wellbeing.
The benefits of sustainable transport
Travel is the biggest cost for an average household in the UK. We each spend over £4000 a year owning and operating a car and other travel ‘services’. Meanwhile traffic jams costs the economy billions of pounds a year.
Transport is expensive, but cars in particular are increasingly damaging our health and the planet. So there’s no doubt we need clean air zones to tackle toxic air pollution in our cities and towns. But how can we make the move to cleaner, more active, greener cities in a way that benefits all of us and our pockets?
Solution 1: active travel
‘Active travel’ simply means using your legs and the best way to promote this is introducing safe spaces for people to walk and cycle from A to B. It encourages more people to abandon their cars and enjoy the cities where they work and live. And it helps us to stay fit, which is crucial to beating the rising obesity levels that come with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
The best way to encourage more cycling is to provide easy access to bikes, and safe and separate cycle lanes, so people don’t have to worry about passing trucks driving past. Increasingly bikes can be hired from train stations and other major areas in cities for increased convenience. Here are more tips on how to get on your bike.
Solution 2: local councils are key
Having a reliable, clean and fit-for-purpose public transport system is one of the most effective ways to reduce dependence on private vehicles. Yet the cost of public transport increases each year whilst the cost of motoring decreases. This is sending completely the wrong message.
Local authorities have reduced budgets each year so bus services are often one of the first funding streams to be hit with reduced routes and timetables. But if you’re asking people to abandon their cars,you need to fund, resource and legislate for alternatives. Some councils, such as Nottingham Council, are leading the way in encouraging public transport and electric vehicles. But many councils are overstretched, so developing clean air zones and on-street charging infrastructure are low down their priority list. That’s why it’s more important than ever that people are involved in planning the future of their towns and cities.
Solution 3: electric vehicles - because not all cars are equal
In the UK, transport is the main source of harmful greenhouse gases. Carbon emissions from cars are increasing each year as people purchase bigger cars, like SUVs and drive further. There are around 32 million cars in the UK and 98% of those burn petrol or diesel with the harmful by-products emitted directly into our streets. So we need alternative forms of travel which are less damaging to the environment to reverse these trends.
Electric cars are an essential part of the solution to help clean up the air we breathe. They’re relatively new but they’re reliable, affordable and in many cases a far superior choice. This clean technology still offers convenient travel but it avoids all the tail-pipe emissions that petrol and diesel cars produce. And electric cars are cheaper to run because electricity is far cheaper than filling up at a petrol station. Amazingly, instead of paying 10p a mile you pay around 3p - or potentially nothing if you charge the battery from green electricity generated from solar panels on your roof. Electric cars have fewer moving parts to maintain so services are cheaper, they are far quieter so reduce noise levels and have no gears so offer a smoother drive.
Solution 4: green government
The UK Government will ban new petrol, diesel and conventional hybrid cars and vans from 2040. However, this ban doesn’t apply to electric cars because they’re better for the environment. The motor is very efficient and an increasing amount of our electricity is powered from renewable sources. Renewable energy is not only a low-carbon source of energy; it also produces no air pollution, creates skilled jobs and reduces the reliance on imported oil, which is great for UK plc.
Prioritising clean air zones
People are generally cautious of change. And so politicians are often tempted to bring in gentle policies to tackle air pollution. But that won’t fix the problem, and it’s a disservice to our communities. We all breathe the same air and we’re all becoming more aware of just how polluted that air is. Historic buildings are not immune either with dirty, corrosive deposits caused by air pollution damaging the masonry.
Every town and city has the opportunity to take strong action to improve air quality. Introducing Clean Air Zones not only reduces pollution but would transform the health and wellbeing of the UK’s citizens. This is also an ideal opportunity to promote different ways of getting around. Walking, cycling, public transport and electric cars all offer a low carbon, quieter and cleaner option. And the plus side is that everybody benefits.