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.


12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.


This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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