How encouraging more active travel including walking and cycling, as well as public transport and electric cars benefits everyone both financially and with improved wellbeing. And why Clean Air Zones are key to removing polluting vehicles and toxic fumes from our streets.
The Benefits of Sustainable Transport
Everybody wants clean air to breathe and towns that are designed with people at the heart of them. More people walking, cycling and using public transport literally saves lives as it reduces congestion, improves air quality and increases the amount of exercise that people take. In addition, technologies already exist to remove highly polluting vehicles from our roads today. So, what on earth are we waiting for?
Having a vision where congestion, noise and poor air are not prevalent is crucial. But besides improved health and creating a more enjoyable pleasant place, less cars on the road save money. Travel is the biggest cost for an average household in the UK; ahead of rent, food, leisure activities and holidays. Over four thousand pounds a year is spent on owning and operating a car and other travel ‘services’. 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.
However, due to legal challenges on levels of pollution, change is in the air. This is a unique moment in time to set ambitious plans for clean air zones and plan city centres so that citizens and not cars, are the priority. Yet a transition to clean, fun, active cities will not happen without a clear road map for change that is both ambitious and crucially resourced because old habits die hard.
Poor Air Quality: The True Cost of Dirty Diesel on our Health
A figure that you will never see printed in glossy car magazines is that each diesel car in London costs the NHS and society an incredible £16,000. For this reason, London’s Mayor, Sadik Khan, is introducing an enhanced congestion charge in London next year.
Clean Air Zones are being brought into cities and towns around the UK to urgently tackle toxic air pollution. The primary source of air pollution is exhaust fumes caused by vehicles burning petrol and diesel. Harmful gases are contributing to premature deaths and respiratory illnesses particularly among vulnerable members of society. Tiny particulates are able to travel right down into the lungs where they cause the most damage.
The Royal College of Physicians estimate that air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths a year across the UK. Health care professionals want to reduce harm to everyone. Laurie Laybourn-Langton from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change said recently that ‘the most exciting elements in acting on this problem is we could realise an extraordinary potential to make a better, cleaner efficient, safer world because, action on air pollution is also action to unlock these positive health benefits.”
Moving out of the city to enjoy fresh air in the countryside isn’t an option or preference for most people. Some parents are paying for air filters in children’s schools however, this is very much a sticking plaster on a very large, open wound. Therefore, the only real solution and by far the most sensible is to prevent pollution by bringing in clean air zones that residents deserve. Securing ambitious plans that takes polluting vehicles off the streets will significantly improve air quality for good.
What is Active Travel?
Introducing safe spaces for people to walk and cycle from A to B encourages more people to abandon their cars so that they too can enjoy the cities where they work and live. ‘Active travel’ as this is now termed, also helps people to stay more fit, which is crucial to beat the rising obesity levels that increasingly sedentary lifestyles encourage. The best way to encourage more cycling is to provide safe and separate cycle lanes so people do not feel fearful when trucks drive past and easy access to bikes. Increasingly bikes can be hired from train stations and other major areas in cities for increased convenience.
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 sending the completely wrong price signal to citizens.
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. However, asking people to abandon their cars and encouraging modal shift requires appropriate funding, resources and legislation for alternatives. Some councils, such as Nottingham Council, are leading the way in encouraging public transport and electric vehicles but many councils are overstretched. Therefore, developing clean air zones and on street charging infrastructure are low down their priority list. Hence it is more important than ever that people are involved in planning the future of their towns and cities.
Petrol and Diesel Cause Climate Change
In the UK, transport is the main source of harmful greenhouse gases. Emissions from cars are increasing each year as people purchase bigger cars, such as SUVs. 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. Therefore, alternative forms of travel which are less damaging to the environment need to be encouraged to reverse these trends.
Electric Vehicles: Because Not all Cars are Equal
Low carbon technologies are developing all the time so we can completely re-think our reliance on fossil fuels. Electric cars are an essential part of the solution to help clean up the air we breathe. Electric cars are relatively ‘new’ but they are a reliable, affordable and in many cases a far superior choice. This clean technology still offers convenient, affordable travel but it avoids all the tail-pipe emissions that petrol and diesel cars produce. Also, amazingly electric cars are cheaper to run because electricity is far cheaper than filling up at a petrol station. 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.
The UK Government will ban new petrol, diesel and conventional hybrid cars and vans from 2040. However, his ban does not apply to electric or plug-in electric hybrid cars because they are 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.
Financial Benefits of Electric Cars
The average car trip is less than nine miles while battery ranges of 100 miles or more are standard and improving all the time. Cars are normally driven for five per cent of a day so charging is rarely a problem. Cars, like mobile phones, can be charged using conventional three pin plugs so batteries are topped up while people sleep at home. There are twice as many fast charging points than petrol stations and the network is growing all the time. They are also an increasingly affordable option, starting from around £12,500 new so electric cars are not significantly more expensive to buy or lease.
Prioritising Clean Air Zones
People generally are cautious of change. That is why politicians are tempted to bring in gentle policies to tackle air pollution but that will not fix the problem and is a disservice to the communities they serve. We all breathe the same air. Historic buildings are not immune either with dirty, corrosive deposits caused by air pollution damaging the masonry. With quieter cars and cleaner air, travelling by bike and walking is also more pleasurable.
When London introduced the Congestion Charge there were plenty of campaigns for watering down the concept. However, these fears were unfounded and the scheme has generated significant revenue for the city to spend on public transport. All major towns and cities will in time introduce some initiative based on the principle that polluters pay. Fortune will favour the brave. If we are serious about tackling toxic air pollution and climate change then bold policies must be introduced. Only with adequate clean air zones is it possible to combat these grave and increasing problems of vehicles on human health. We must break our addiction to petrol and diesel and overcome the inertia which stands in the way of change.
Every town and city has the opportunity to take strong action to improve air quality. Introducing Clean Air Zones not only reduce pollution but would transform the health and wellbeing of its 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 opportunity. And the plus side is that everybody benefits.