Research from our fellows

November 17, 2020

Banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 is not good enough to deal with climate change

Professor John Whitelegg was appointed FIT Senior Fellow in 2020.

Road safety

The Prime Minister wants to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030.

Overlooking for a moment the impact this will have on the fleet as a whole in 2030 and the degree to which sales of non-fossil fuel vehicles after 2030 will contribute to decarbonisation, it still misses what is needed to decarbonise transport.  It is not fast enough, early enough and big enough to help achieve our climate ambitions.

Unfortunately, a focus on the technology that powers cars fails to deal with the important issue of how we will move around by 2030 and the potential for delivering huge reductions in transport carbon by shifting trips from the car to walk, cycle and bus depending on distance and journey purpose.

Decarbonisation presents huge opportunities to deliver multiple benefits that go well beyond changing the way we power cars and delivers large numbers of public health, social and environmental benefits.  This requires that we move away from the car as the default option and the Prime Minister’s announcement locks us into many more years of car-dependency.   

Space required for cars vs bikes

The car fails the test of sustainable urban mobility on a number of grounds including:

  • Its inefficient use of scarce and expensive space when more space-efficient options are available (bikes, buses, feet, trams)
  • Its failure to deliver public health standards of physical activity by encouraging much increased levels of use of walking, cycling and public transport.  The World Health Organisation recommends much more walking and cycling to reduce the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease.

A mobility future based on the car as the default option imposes very high costs on society as a whole, very large subsidies and a regressive public spend (public spending is skewed in favour of the wealthy). We can reduce those costs by increasing walking, cycling and public transport to the benefit of all social and income groups.

Economic Inefficiency of the car-based paradigm

Whitelegg, J (2020), Chapter 5, Economic Inefficiency of the car-based paradigm, Curtis, C (ed) Handbook of Sustainable Transport. Download here.

What would a socially-just, fair, decarbonised, child-friendly, economically-efficient mobility future look like by 2030?

  • It would look like Lund in Southern Sweden with 34% of all trips every day by car, 27% by bike, 23% by public transport, 14% walking and 2% other. More here.
  • All road building would be cancelled, including the national (RIS2) £27 billion road building programme and the £7 billion local roads programme
  • The £34 billion would be reallocated to zero carbon, sustainable transport initiatives that benefit all social and income groups and improve accessibility to work, health care, training and education.
  • Swiss standards of public transport service quality would be adopted, including legally guaranteed service levels of frequency connecting settlements of different population sizes with other settlements in the urban hierarchy.
  • Totally free (to the user) bus services would be adopted.  There are now 96 “full free fare public transport” (FFFPT) services in place globally.  The Tallinn FFFPT initiative has produced impressive results. Almost a year after the introduction of FFFPT, public transport usage increased by 14% and there is evidence that the mobility of low-income residents has improved.
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