By 2040, all sales of new petrol and diesel vans and cars will cease in the UK. This follows increasing pressure to tackle air pollution, which is thought to be linked to 40,000 premature deaths a year.
Behind the plan lies the intention to move to electric cars, but with 1% of new sales of cars being electric, how will this work in practice?
There will be a range of measures implemented to support the electric car market and retrofit existing vehicles. However, there has been some criticism to suggest that the suggested plans simply aren’t adequate.
With car commuters in the UK’s most congested cities wasting an average of 127 hours per year on the road, should we be looking for an alternative solution? Is this another missed opportunity to improve how we move around and live in our cities?
I propose that, although a move to electric is a step in the right direction, where possible, we should encourage commuters to travel by bicycle. This would be greener, ease congestion and the health benefits could help to ease pressure on our NHS.
Encouraging cycling could save our NHS money
In England, cycling could not only help to reduce air pollution, it would actually help protect our health services. This month, the NHS and social care leaders wrote to Philip Hammond to demand speeding up investment in their services.
Active travel, such as walking, cycling and taking public transport is the easiest and most affordable way for us to get healthier and lead more active lifestyles. It’s estimated that if all Londoners walked or cycled for just 20 minutes a day, that we could save the NHS £1.7bn in treatment costs over 25 years in the capital alone.
In London, two-thirds of journeys could be completed by bike. Changing the way we travel could not only make us healthier, and therefore happier, but it could save the NHS money.
According to a recent survey of 2,000 Brits, the majority of people believed that the most stressful way to travel to work was by car. It is estimated that the cost of staff absence due to illness to the NHS alone reaches £2.4bn a year - excluding the cost of agency staff to fill in gaps and the cost of treatment.
Nationwide, a staggering 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. Not only is our reliance on cars costing the NHS money because of sedentary lifestyles, but is costing them, and our businesses a colossal amount of money in sick days.
Electric cars don’t ease congestion
Cycling should be prioritised to help with the crippling congestion we face in large cities, not only in the UK, but across the world.
Here, congestion is getting worse and costs the economy up to £11bn a year. If we switched to bicycles, the same 3.5 metre-wide single lane roads that can transport 2,000 people an hour by car could facilitate 14,000 people by bicycle. That’s without factoring in the amount of road space taken up by parking.
Perhaps we should focus on improving our cycling infrastructure across the country, rather than on electric charging stations for cars and providing subsidies for customers.
The future of cycling in the UK
At present only 3% of adults cycle frequently (five times a week) yet 42% of us own a bike. Cycling your commute or on a regular basis could not only save you thousands in car costs, but make you a happier, healthier person.
The future of cycling in the UK has been dealt blow after blow in budgets, with promised spending reduced from £10 per person, per year to £1.40 a head by the Conservative government. To put this in perspective, the average investment in the Netherlands is around €30 (£22) per person per year.
While the switch from diesel and petrol would reduce pollution and help to tackle the early deaths associated with it, it will do little to encourage physical activity.
If we are to truly change our society for the better, our government should be more focussed on promoting active forms of transport and less on changing the type of heavy box we use to the clog the roads of our towns and cities.