Are Electric Cars the Answer?
Last week, I attended the Distinguished Address at UWE Bristol #BristolLectures and heard the CEO of Sustrans, Xavier Brice, speak about the future of transport. As an Electric Car driver myself, I'm really keen to hear about how society (all of us) will need to adapt in future, to do what we need to do, while reducing our carbon output. (I'd like car chargers to be on every petrol station forecourt, at every workplace, every shopping centre.... I know: Dream On, Sugar. But the reason we don't have range anxiety in our fossil fuel cars is just that we know the infrastructure is there for us. We need to do the same for EVs!)
Xavier Brice said that we have designed our cities, living, and work places around a presumption of car ownership for most people. If we think about Sim City for a minute, we know that we tend to gather Residential zones away from Industrial zones, and the same is mostly true in real life. If you are able to walk to work, you'd be in a minority. And no, not everyone can work from home. Nurses, for instance.
But electric cars, he said, are... just changing the horse feed.
You still have the same number of horses. He showed us a picture of a traffic jam, and said, if these were EVs we'd still have the jam, but with less fumes. Driverless cars? Same jam, fewer steering wheels.
So, what's the answer?
I think, it's partly in Psychology. There are some journeys that we could make by public transport, but don't - because (insert your reason here: it's more expensive. It will take a bit longer. I'm worried about germs. Or, I just don't, and I don't like my thinking challenged, thank you.) By the way, I'm not arguing that there are some journeys we really need a car for; there are lots of good reasons why that's sometimes true. I'm thinking more about the journeys where there is a public transport alternative, but we don't use it.
His view - we need to redesign our towns and cities. He gave us an example of a project in Melbourne, creating communities where homes, jobs, retail and green spaces are all within a mile of each other - encouraging walking and cycling. Sounds Utopian, doesn't it?
But what about now? We've got legions of problems to solve - property prices being unaffordable in our town centres, partly due to "buy to let" or even perhaps "buy to launder foreign money". A lack of truly affordable homes being built. Public transport run for profit or on commercial, rather than social, principles (Dr Beeching, I'm looking at you). And, are we really going to be able to redesign our built environment?
Well, maybe. If we can get the Psychology right. Let's consider ourselves challenged!