Cars – are ‘friends’ electric?

Pine fresh

Ok…we get it

As pteg, we would prefer it if everyone walked, cycled or used public transport to make their journeys. But we must be realistic. Whether through choice, or necessity, many people are very attached to their cars. The car does have its benefits over other transport options:

  • It takes you from door-to-door, even if those two doors are hundreds of miles apart and in the middle of nowhere.
  • You can set off and head back whenever you want.
  • You can follow any route (unless you are accompanied by a bossy sat nav in computer or human form).
  • You don’t have to worry about who will sit next to you.
  • You can savour the aroma emanating from your Magic Tree, rather than other, less pleasant sources.
  • You can sing if you want and no-one will stare at you.

But don’t forget the bad bits…

So it’s easy to understand the attraction. But cars are also frequently polluting, expensive to run and tend to make you lazy. So accepting that, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a desire or need for cars, we need to look at how we can make them greener and encourage people to use them less.

There are lots of ways to do this, but having recently attended the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership conference, I will focus on two in particular – electric cars and the concept of combined mobility.

Plugging in

Electric cars first. If people must use cars, it would be great if they were electric. That way, they emit zero emissions at the tail pipe, reducing pollution and improving air quality for all – especially in inner-city areas where those on a lower income are disproportionately affected.

It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm with which manufacturers are developing electric cars in the hope that their product will be seen as ‘an iPad on wheels’ as one speaker put it – becoming the ‘must-have’ piece of tech.

Nissan Leaf

We heard, for example, about the Nissan Leaf – Nissan are investing big money into this car and the batteries that go with it and have received £20m from the Government to support development in Sunderland – great news for jobs in these austere times.

Manufacturers believe there is a market out there provided the vehicles are affordable (with help from Government incentives), they can address consumer worries (e.g. how far can I get on the battery) and there is a visible infrastructure available at destinations – like railway stations and supermarkets – and en-route (pathway charging), for longer distance journeys.

Avoiding business as usual – the combined mobility option

However, the problem with electric cars is that, aside from changing how you fill up your vehicle with energy, they allow people to pretty much carry on as normal, albeit in a greener, less polluting manner. The roads will still be congested, streets filled up with parked cars, the electricity still needs to be generated somewhere and people will still get lazy – using their cars when they don’t really need to.

One of the problems is that, with the electric vehicle option alone, people still own cars. If you own a car, of course you want to get the use out of it and you’ll be tempted to use it for the majority of your journeys. That’s where the concept of combined mobility and new models of car ownership come in.

Could mobile phone style contracts be the future of car ownership?

One of the manufacturers at the conference said that they were looking with great interest at the mobile phone industry as a business model. Here, you sign up for a contract that meets your needs and keeps you talking, texting, emailing and so on. You never actually own the phone that allows you to do this. Instead you have temporary custody of it until it’s time for an upgrade. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for people – they get the services they need and the newest, shiniest technology.

The same could go for cars, which could be presented as part of a package of transport services that keep you moving. You would never actually own the car, simply have access to it via a car club should you need it for a particular journey. The car club would ensure that you are always driving the shiniest, greenest and most efficient vehicles (they could even be electric, making the technology accessible to a wider range of people).

Alongside car clubs, the package would include other transport services – pay-as-you-go bikes, buses, trains, trams and taxis. Smartcard technology in the mould of London’s Oyster could give one-touch access to all of these transport services – leaving you to decide which is best for the journey you are making. For the morning commute, you can hop on a bike and dodge the traffic jams. If you need to do a food shop that evening, unlock a car club car for a couple of hours. Public transport would also become a more attractive, cheaper option for many journeys as pay-as-you-go cars make the real cost of motoring more visible.

This model means you no longer need to have the car sitting in the drive all the time, making you feel guilty for not taking it for a spin, costing you an arm and a leg and tempting you into making unnecessary journeys to the corner shop for biscuits.

Combined mobility offers the prospect of new thinking rather than ‘business as usual but with low carbon vehicles’. It’s time to embrace the car as our friend…albeit one that we only call upon when absolutely necessary. More of an acquaintance really then…

Rebecca Handley

A perfect storm?

A storm brewing for the city regions outside London?

It’s not just the indifferent weather that’s been casting shadows over the long summer days. At the back of many minds is uncertainty and concern over just how bad it’s going to be once the spending review kicks in from the Autumn onwards. And for local transport outside London – it could be very bad indeed. This is because bus services are at the wrong end of a series of much higher level decisions. Transport gets less protection than other Departments (like health and education). Within transport there are inescapable costs and commitments – as well as areas of the budget that are subject to long term deals (such as national rail and London). Once you’ve factored that in, this means all the cuts have to come out of more discretionary areas of spend – which is not fixed or subject to long term deals. One of those areas is local transport outside London. Add into this mix the rising costs of the legally mandatory national concessionary travel scheme and you are looking at some frightening scenarios for what happens to available budgets for non-mandatory spending on concessionary fares, BSOG, tendered services, bus stations and stops, bus priority schemes, information and promotion, safety and security schemes and all the other things that hold a bus network together. Indeed analysis for pteg by Grant Thornton suggests that non-protected areas of the transport budget (including local transport spending outside London) could be reduced by nearly 90% for capital spending by 2014/15 whilst revenue spend could fall by between 56% and 85% over the same period.

Shiny new buses for London but what future for bus services elsewhere?

Looking North

One rarely senses excessive interest or concern from Whitehall officials about the fate of anything north of the home counties but the politics of getting some of this stuff wrong has been picked up by Ministers. For example how will it play for the Government to be funding a free bus pass for pensioners at a cost of £1 billion a year when bus services are evaporating and young people are losing their concessions? And how will it go down if London is still spending on ‘nice to haves’ like the Routemaster replacement, when frontline transport services in the next tier of major cities are being cut? The way in which the coalition in support of retaining BSOG came together so quickly was also encouraging. Usually it’s very difficult to get much interest in the media, or from other organisations, on bus policy issues – but here in a matter of weeks we had environmental groups, trade unions, CPT and pteg all fully behind it -and getting coverage in the national press. That also sent a message to Ministers that buses might not be as politically invisible as perhaps was once the case.

There is a risk of excacerbating the already large funding gap between London and the North and West Midlands

Avoiding a ‘perfect storm’

So how could Ministers avoid some of the worst case scenarios? Firstly, there’s a need to ensure that regional balance is carefully factored into the transport spending review as a whole – to avoid exacerbating the funding gap between London and the regions. Secondly, existing subsidies (CT, BSOG and local transport authority revenue budgets) for the bus industry need to be considered in a more holistic way, rather than in silos. The cumulative effect of separately considered reforms/cuts to these flows is what will count in terms of what future bus services will look like on the ground. In the city regions we believe that the PTEs would be well placed to get better value from these flows by targeting them in a way which meets local circumstances and aspirations – rather than continuing with flat rigid national pay-out systems which inevitably results in  windfalls, under-payments and unintended consequences. However, whatever is ultimately decided on bus subsidies it should be on the basis of the cumulative impacts rather than on incrementalism and silo thinking. At least in the men who are making the decisions – Norman Baker and Phillip Hammond – we have a combination of social conscience and forensic accountancy that has the collective capability to make some astute decisions. The big question is how much wriggle room will the spending review as a whole give them to make the best use of what funding remains for local transport outside London? In the city regions the bus is still a major player in the transport market rather than the niche player or a social safety net it can be elsewhere.  Keeping it that way is about to get harder.

Jonathan Bray
This article was first published in Coach and Bus Week

Public transport makes you skinny

Use sparingly - could cause weight gain!

Even in America, where our mental image is of a society dominated by the car, there is compelling evidence that public transport is good for you.  A study released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) shows that people who live in communities with extensive public transport networks exercise more, live longer, and are generally healthier than people in automobile-dependent communities.

Use of public transit simply means that you walk more which increases fitness levels and leads to healthier citizens. More importantly, increasing use of public transit may be the most effective traffic safety counter measure a community can employ,” says APTA president William Millar

Walking - every little helps - even if it's just to the bus stop

In the UK, the Cabinet Office produced a report at the end of 2009 which estimated the costs of urban congestion at between £38bn – £48bn per year, of which around half had direct health related impacts – accidents, pollution and physical inactivity.  This further reinforces the notion that public transport’s impacts are wider than the traditional aspects of environmental and economic gain. 

Put together with the American research, this should strengthen the case for a more holistic look at the benefits of public transport and why it’s important for health and transport professional to work together.  This is a subject we’ll be looking at for pteg shortly.