The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation paper on the future of UK transport, which calls for a major shift out of cars into cycling, walking and buses, and "using cars differently in future", but hasn't told anyone about it.
The paper crept out on March 26, the day that UK Covid-19 victims reached 578, up to that point the largest recorded daily increase. Decarbonising Transport: Setting The Challenge calls for respondents to the debate, as set out by the Government, prior to the publication of a full transport decarbonisation plan, due in November to coincide with the UN's annual climate-change conference COP26 due to be held in Glasgow.
Citing the Government's 2050 net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions target, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, espouses a vision where "we will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.
"From motorcycles to HGVs, all road vehicles will be zero emission," he writes, "and technological advances… will change the way vehicles are used."
The paper also confirms that even though it has left the EU, the UK will continue to adhere to the EU's strict CO2 emissions standards for cars, which are the toughest in the world.
"Tailpipe emissions for new cars and vans remains a crucial lever," says the paper, which says the UK will at least match the EU's CO2 targets for new cars of 15% by 2025 and 37.5% by 2030 (based on a 2021 baseline), with manufacturers facing fines for non-compliance.
While the paper invites debate, it sets the terms of that debate fairly strictly. It acknowledges that cars produce lower greenhouse-gas emissions (typically 20 per cent less than in 1990) and that since 1990 there has been an overall five per cent decrease in car emissions despite a 22 per cent increase in traffic in the same period.
Yet it also reckons that fuel efficiency gains have stalled in recent years, blaming not the public spurning of CO2-efficient diesel-fuelled cars, but the growth of SUVs (although it fails to define this wide market sector, which spans supermini-based crossovers to gargantuan SUVs).
It also trumpets the Government's electric-car strategy, presumptuously claiming that the UK is "a global leader in their development and manufacture", and trumpets its own investment in a UK fast-charging structure and grants for motorists to buy electric cars.
It completely ignores the growing realisation in Europe that hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars will likely play a large part in meeting any net-zero targets. In fact hydrogen simply isn't mentioned in the paper, whether it would be used in cars, buses, motorcycles, trains, aviation or ships.
Nor does it mention environmental benefits or otherwise of the growing markets for electric bicycles, electric stand-on scooters, electric motorbikes and scooters, or the growth of ride sharing apps such as Via rather than ride hailing apps such as Uber, and future developments in autonomous robot taxis – even though that last one remains far off.
"This document marks the beginning of a conversation to develop the policies needed to decarbonise transport," writes Shapps. Though quite with whom he is having that conversation remains unclear.
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