Banning petrol cars is all very well – but it won’t work without a huge investment in electric infrastructure

This image is self-explanatory. Image: Getty.

The UK government is proposing a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, in a move that echoes a recent announcement in France.

Setting this sort of media-friendly target is a positive and welcome response to the challenge of air pollution across UK cities. But delivering the infrastructure, research and development support and incentives to switch to greener cars will be the hard part. If conventional vehicle manufactures start getting nervous, then environment secretary Michael Gove may find the road to an electric future needs to be paved with more than good intentions.

Planned well, a ban on sales of conventionally fuelled vehicles could deliver long-term benefits for both air quality and economic investment in post-Brexit UK. There is no question that a switch to alternative-fuelled vehicles would significantly improve air quality in towns and cities.

The actual benefit will not be felt for many years, however, given the slow replacement rate for vehicles. Still, it does establish a clear direction of travel for public investment and as battery prices are set to tumble over the next decade, it will be one more reason for businesses to switch to greener vehicles.

The 2040 target should encourage big electric vehicle manufacturers to invest in the UK. The country is a significant consumer market and has strong production capabilities in green technologies, especially the use of lightweight materials. BMW, for instance, has just announced it will build the fully electric Mini at its plant in Oxford. An even clearer example of policy driving private investment is Chinese carmaker Geely’s investment in a new hybrid model of the London taxi to take advantage of the capital’s new “ultra low emission zone”.

Then there is the question of infrastructure. The UK has 6,535 charging stations, which sounds like a lot. But compare that to Norway, which has slightly more stations for a population less than a tenth the size. The number of charging points will have to rise to the hundreds of thousands.

A big ask

New homes are required to have charging points by 2019, but installation costs £1,000 in existing houses. Subsidies can reduce the cost, but will need to be taken up on a vastly greater scale. And even this won’t help those dependent on on-street parking or multi-story living. A comprehensive infrastructure would certainly cost hundreds of millions. And even if successful, the government faces another headache – lost fuel duty could leave a hole in the budget of between £9bn and £23bn by 2030.

Equally important is the need to think about energy supply. The widespread adoption of electric vehicles could put a strain on the grid at a time when fossil fuels are being phased out and a higher share of more volatile renewables is taking over. This means the government will need to think seriously about how excess power is stored during the hot, blustery days that favour solar or wind farms, and how to manage demand from electric vehicles when there is not enough sun or wind.


For car manufacturers, 2040 is several production cycles away. This gives them and the government time to think creatively about mass electrification. Roads that charge your car as you drive would need a big initial investment but would make electric cars significantly cheaper and better.

Self-driving cars and the trend towards mobility being a service you buy on demand through firms such as Uber might mean some people eventually don’t need to purchase vehicles at all. But these technologies are still many years away from the mainstream.

This highlights a key point: that a shift to sales of alternative fuelled vehicles will not immediately reduce air pollution and will do nothing to impact on congestion. Only a more comprehensive policy of shifting people to different modes of transport will achieve this, and here the government’s commitment shouldn’t be relied upon.

On an optimistic note, there are good reasons to imagine that a shift to greener vehicles may occur anyway. Pete Harrop, chairman of industry analysts IdTechEx, is bullish, predicting driving ranges of up to 1,000 miles and electric vehicles that can harvest solar electricity and act as batteries to store renewable power. “Electric vehicles are not simply catching up with conventional vehicles,” he told us. “They are overtaking.”

It’s clear which way the wind is blowing. Norway, as market leader, wants to ban sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2025, and the German upper house has debated a 2030 target.

The ConversationBy 2040, internal combustion engines may no longer be able to compete in the market. But whether the UK’s infrastructure is ready for millions more electric vehicles remains to be seen.

Richard Brooks is a research associate, and Jason Begley a research fellow, at the Centre for Business in Society, Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Seville has built its entire public transport system in 10 years. How has it done?

Just another sunny day in Seville. Image: Claude Lynch.

Seville, the fourth largest urban centre in Spain, was recently voted Lonely Planet’s number one city to visit in 2018. The award made a point of mentioning Seville’s impressive network of bicycles and trams, but it neglected to mention that it’s actually their ten year anniversary. The city’s metro opened just two years later.

This makes now an excellent time to look back on Seville’s public transport network – especially because almost all of it was completed in the middle of the global financial crisis. So, is it a good model for modern public transport? Let’s find out.

Cycle Hire

Seville, like any good metropolis, features a cycle hire scheme: Sevici, which is a clever portmanteau of the words ‘Seville’ and ‘bici’, short for bicicleta, the Spanish for, you guessed it, bicycle.

The service, launched in 2007, is run as a public-private partnership. Users can pay a flat weekly fee of €13.33 (£11.81) for unlimited rentals, as long as all the journeys last 30 minutes or less. For the fanatics, there’s a year-long subscription for €33. This makes Sevici cheaper than the London equivalent (£90) but slightly more than that of Paris (€29).

However, the reason why the bike hire scheme has gained particular praise in recent years is down to Seville’s network of cycle paths, snaking around the town centre and into the suburbs. The sheer scale of the scheme, 75 miles of track in total, has prompted comparisons to Amsterdam.

But there is a meaningful distinction between the two cases. First, cycling culture is such a big deal for the Amsterdammers that it has its own Wikipedia page. In Seville, cycling culture is a growing trend, but one that faces an uphill struggle, despite the city’s flatness. Around half of the cycle paths are on a pavement shared by pedestrians; pedestrians often ignore that the space is designed specifically for cycles.

A Sevici station in the town centre. Image: Claude Lynch.

Surprisingly, cyclists will also find exactly the opposite problem: the fact that bicycles enjoy the privilege of so many segregated spaces mean that, if they dare enter the road, motorists are not obliged to show them the same level of respect – because why would they need to enter the road in the first place?

This problem is only compounded by the Mediterranean driving style, one that takes a more cavalier attitude to objects in the road than that of the northern Europeans. While none of this makes cycling in Seville a write-off – it remains the cycling capital of Spain – budding tourists should bear in mind that the cycle paths do not extend far into the old town proper, making them a utility, for the most part, for budding commuters.

Metro

The metro system in Seville consists of a single metro line that travels from Ciudad Expo in the west to Olivar de Quintos in the east. It has three zones, which create a simple and straightforward fare system, based on the number of journeys and number of “saltos” (jumps) between zones, and nothing more.

The need-to-know for tourists, however, is that only three of the metro stations realistically serve areas with attractions: Plaza de Cuba, Puerta de Jerez, and Prado de San Sebastian. Given that a walk between these is only a few minutes slower than by metro, it shows the metro service for what it is: a service for commuters coming from the west or east of town into the city centre.

Some of the behaviour on the network is worth noting, too. Manspreading is still dangerously common. There are no signs telling you to “stand on the right”, so people queue in a huff instead. Additionally, there is no etiquette when it comes to letting passengers debark before you get on, which makes things precarious in rush hour – or if you dare bring your bike on with you.

On the plus side, that’s something you can do; all trains have spaces reserved for bikes and prams (and they’re far more sophisticated than the kind you see on London buses). Trains are also now fitted with USB charging ports for your phone. This comes in addition to platform edge doors, total wheelchair access, and smart cards as standard. Snazzy, then – but still not much good for tourists.

Platform edge doors at Puerta Jerez. Image: Claude Lynch.

The original plan for Seville’s metro, launched in the 70s, would have had far more stations running through the city centre; it’s just that the ambitious plans were never launched, due in equal measure to a series of sinkholes and financial crises. The same kind of problems led to Seville’s metro network being opened far behind schedule, with expansion far down the list of priorities.

Still, the project, for which Sevillanos waited 40 years, is impressive – but it doesn’t feel like the best way to cater to an east-west slice of Seville’s comparatively small urban population of 1m. Tyne and Wear, one of the few British cities comparable in terms terms of size and ambition, used former railways lines for much of its metro network, and gets far more users as a result. Seville doesn’t have that luxury; or where it does, it refuses to use it in tandem.

You only need to look east, to Valencia, to see a much larger metro in practice; indeed, perhaps Seville’s metro wouldn’t look much different today if it had started at the same time as Valencia, like they wanted to. As a result, Seville´s metro ends up on the smaller side, outclassed on this fantastic list by the likes of Warsaw, Nizhny Novgorod, and, inexplicably, Pyongyang.

Seville: a less impressive metro than Pyongyang. Intriguing. Image: Neil Freeman.

Tramway

The tram travels from the high rise suburb-cum-transport hub of San Bernardo to the Plaza Nueva, in the south of the Seville’s old town. This route runs through a further metro station and narrowly avoids a third before snaking up past the Cathedral.

This seems like a nice idea in principle, but the problem is that it’s only really functional for tourists, as tram services are rare and slow to a crawl into the town centre, anticipating pedestrians, single tracks, and other obstacles (such as horse-drawn carriages; seriously). While it benefits from segregated lanes for most of the route, it lacks the raison d'être of the metro due to the fact that it only has a meagre 2km of track.

The tram travelling down a pedestrianised street with a bicycle path to the right. Image: Claude Lynch.

However, staring at a map long enough offers signs as to why the tram exists as it does. There’s no history of trams in Seville; the tracks were dug specifically for the new line. A little digging reveals that it’s again tied into the first plans for Seville’s metro, which aspired to run through the old town. Part of the reason the scheme was shelved was the immense cost brought about by having to dig through centuries-old foundations.

The solution, then, was to avoid digging altogether. However, because this means the tram is just doing the job the metro couldn’t be bothered to do, it makes it a far less useful service; one that could easily be replaced by a greater number of bike locks and, maybe, just maybe, additional horses.


So what has changed since Seville’s transport revolution?

For one thing, traffic from motor vehicles in Seville peaked in 2007 and has decreased every year since, at least until 2016. What is more promising is that the areas with the best public transport coverage have seen continued decreases in traffic on their roads, which implies that something is working.

Seville’s public transport network is less than 15 years old. The fact that the network was built from scratch, in a city with no heritage of cycling, tunnels, or tramways, meant that it could (or rather, had to) be built to spec. This is where comparisons to Amsterdam, Tyne and Wear, or any other city realistically fall out of favour; the case of Seville is special, because it’s all absolutely brand new.

As a result, it’s not unbecoming to claim that each mode of transport was built with a specific purpose. The metro, designed for the commuter; the tramway, for tourists; and cycling, a mix of the two. In a city with neither a cultural nor a physical precedent of any kind for such radical urban transportation, the outcome was surprisingly positive – the rarely realised “build it, and they will come”.

However, it bears mentioning that the ambitious nature of all three schemes has led to scaling back and curtailment in the wake of the economic crisis. This bodes poorly for the future, given that the Sevici bikes are already nearing the end of their lifetime, the cycle lanes are rapidly losing sheen, and upgrades to the tramway are downright necessary to spare it from obsolescence.

The conclusion we can draw from all this, then, appears to be a double-edged one. Ambition is not necessarily limited by a lack of resources, as alternatives may well present themselves. And yet, as is so often the case, when the money stops, so do the tracks.

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