Last week the Government published its ten point plan for a 'green industrial revolution'. The new date for ending sales of petrol and diesel cars hit the headlines, but there were also commitments on other things we've been campaigning for, including electric buses and reopening closed rail lines.
There were lots of things in the plan that we and our supporters have called for. Firstly, that commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, a massive ten years earlier than previously planned, which will have a hugely positive impact on air quality and climate. We teamed up with Friends of the Earth, WWF and many other organisations to ask the PM for exactly this ambitious change:
"We are writing to ask you to change the 2040 'mission' to end petrol/diesel car and van sales to a firm 'commitment' to do so by 2030"
- Our joint letter to Theresa May in 2018
But we and our supporters have also long argued that electric cars are not a silver bullet: we need fewer cars on our roads overall, which means enormous strides are needed in improving public transport and walking and cycling routes. The Government's plan has some good things to say about this as well:
- It promises to electrify more rail lines and reopen many of the lines closed under the disastrous Beeching cuts. This is very welcome: the case for reopening rail lines is stronger now than ever, not just to enable green travel, but to create jobs, tackle social exclusion and help the economy to recover. We've looked in detail at which disused lines and stations should be reopened first, with input from communities around the country
- It promises to publish a National Bus Strategy early next year. Unlike rail, roads, walking and cycling, buses have never had a national strategy to give them a positive direction - despite being the most-used form of public transport. We've been the main organisation calling for one, and our supporters have helped by writing to their MPs. Now a strategy is due to be published, and we can also look forward to thousands of British built zero emission buses and integrated ticketing - all things we've called for
- It reiterates the commitment to provide a £4.2 billion public transport funding over five years for eight Mayoral Combined Authorities (announced in the March Budget) and £5 billion for buses, cycling and walking before the end of this Parliament (announced in February). We have been campaigning for more long-term funding like this for some time, so this is definitely a step in the right direction
- It promises many more cycle lanes and low-traffic neighbourhoods, which will allow people to walk and cycle who might not otherwise have done so, improving our health as well as our environment.
Many of these promises aren't new, but seeing them freshly committed to here is well worth celebrating. Don’t forget that when the Government stated the need for 'modal shift' (getting people out of their cars and onto other modes) just eight months ago, commentators called it 'amazing' and 'gob-smacking'. The need for modal shift is calmly re-stated in last week’s plan.
Of course, there is much more that the Government should be doing, including directing more investment to sustainable modes of transport. It would make sense, for instance, for a significant proportion of the £27.4 billion earmarked for road building in the 'second Road Investment Strategy' to be allocated towards active travel and bus network infrastructure projects. And with the need to encourage people back onto public transport after the damaging effects of lockdown, the very last thing it should be doing is increasing rail fares in the new year.
There is much to welcome in this plan, but as we begin the process of recovery from the pandemic, there is much more still to do, to protect and improve sustainable transport and encourage many more people to use it. Why not sign up to our email list or make a donation to help bring about better, greener, fairer transport?