Car Free Day is on Wednesday 22 September. Stagecoach East Midlands Managing Director Matt Cranwell looks at the damaging impact that cars have on communities and why he believes that more than a switch to electric is needed to tackle the climate emergency.
Cars were originally seen as a passport to freedom when they took off in the 1950s. But seven decades later there is stark evidence of the damage they care causing to our lives. They are a major contributor to climate change, poor air quality, early deaths from respiratory and heart conditions, as well as costing the UK economy billions of pounds a year in reduced productivity from road congestion.
Car Free Day: ‘No better time to understand travel choices’
As countries around the world mark #CarFreeDay on 22 September, there is no better time to better understand the impact our travel choices have on those around us and future generations. It’s also an opportunity to get some insight into what our towns and cities would be like free from car jams and choking exhaust fumes.
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has had such a huge impact on the finances of families around the country, it is puzzling that many people remain wedded to their cars. Research published by Moneybarn earlier this year found that the average UK driver spends just over 15 per cent of their salary on car-related costs, amounting to an eyewatering £293 a month.
This includes various elements of car ownership, from insurance and tax to commuting and parking costs. Since this research was published, petrol pump prices have risen by more than 10% and in July hit the highest price for nearly eight years. All for a machine that sits parked idle 95% of the time. To put that in context, the average cost of unlimited weekly bus travel with Stagecoach is less than £20.
‘Bus travel brings numerous benefits’
But the benefits of bus travel go far beyond leaving you with more money to spend on what you really want to do. It helps to reduce carbon emissions, where one full double decker bus can take 75 cars off the road. Catching the bus also increases daily activity when walking to and from stops and has social benefits such as tackling loneliness.
Many people argue that they would switch if only public transport services were better. However, it is excessive car use that is undermining the nation’s bus networks – the very services which are critical to keeping the country moving, particularly for those in our communities who are most socially excluded.
Car congestion results in slower journeys for everyone, including bus passengers, it increases costs of running services and it pushes up fares. More pro-bus policies, such as dedicated lanes for people making a more sustainable choice in using the bus, as well as public investment, will make the biggest difference in improving bus services and delivering healthier and better-connected local communities.
Transport is the UK’s biggest challenge for net zero
When it comes to delivering on the UK’s net zero pledges, there’s no more challenging a sector than transport. It’s the country’s highest single emitter of carbon and has been one of the few areas of daily life where the problem has been growing. But the view that all our problems will go away by switching to electric vehicles is a myth.
For all the lauding of the benefits of switching to electric vehicles, the Committee on Climate Change has made clear that changing technology will deliver only 38% of the required reductions in emissions if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.
That means 62% of emissions reductions will have to come from changes in how we live, particularly how and how often we travel. In short, walking more, cycling and wheeling, and using more sustainable public transport, particularly buses, for the essential journeys we need to make.
Roadmap to carbon neutrality is required – and delivered
The scale and speed of the transformation required is daunting – and make no mistake, it is going to require fundamental changes. But it can be done. Last month, Stagecoach launched its new sustainability strategy, Driving Net Zero: Better Places to Live and Work.
Our roadmap to becoming a carbon neutral business will see investment in new zero-emission fleets and other green technologies over the next 15 years to reduce the impact of the company’s operations on the planet, as well as initiatives to cut waste, boost recycling and conserve water.
Stagecoach is aiming to decarbonise its business by around 70% by 2035 as well as targeting a zero emissions UK bus fleet by that date.
But we all need to make changes. Governments need to change their contradictory policies and mixed messages, incentivising people to switch away from cars, not just switch to electric cars. Individually, we all need to consider the journeys we make and make more sustainable choices where there are clear alternatives. Together, we can create a greener, smarter, safer, healthier and fairer country – so let’s start that journey on #CarFreeDay.