It has taken a global pandemic to teach us what can be achieved when we are forced to reassess our lives. Let’s hope the lessons are not quickly forgotten, says Richard Dilks, chief executive of CoMoUK, the charity for the public benefit of shared mobility.
We are in the midst of a gigantic socio-economic experiment as we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This has been particularly obvious in transport, with pictures of our empty streets, stations and airports speaking volumes.
A global pandemic is, of course, totally unwelcome, but that does not mean we cannot draw some useful lessons from it for when we emerge from this public health crisis to the one we really should have been laser-focused on for years: climate change.
We are doing badly on greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector in the UK, unlike other economic sectors.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has recently published its very welcome draft transport decarbonisation document.
This includes what someone rightly described to me as “the graph of doom”, which shows just how far off the legally binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 we are as a nation.
And yet, we have so many promising ingredients.
That plan itself is very much a step in the right direction from Government, with a foreword from the Secretary of State saying that ‘public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities’.
That is absolutely the right direction of travel, although being the chief executive of the national collective body for shared transport such as bike share and car club schemes allows me to get out my yellow highlighter and add ‘shared transport’ into Mr Shapps’ list.
We also have a willingness and ability to build and adopt new technologies (take online retail sales versus other European countries as one example); a shared transport fleet and user base at an all-time high; the highest levels of devolution and funding to our nations and regions in living memory; huge potential and some serious policy attention and infrastructure work on walking and cycling; record levels of investment into public transport and a Government paying attention to relatively new mobility options such as e-scooters and flexible bus services.
We have an innovative industrial base and a world-class higher education sector.
The Government has also recently announced three Future Transport Zones, which have great potential to coalesce transport and technology into action on the ground that can pave the way for future welcome and much needed steps.
By future, don’t think ‘futuristic’; rather these are things that are current in other places but that we should have here, such as mobility hubs, intelligent use of drones, pan-modal booking platforms and e-cargo bikes.
I live in London. As I type, I can hear the birdsong and smell the notably sweeter air drifting in through the open window. The planes do not drone overhead. The street has become a de facto playspace for the children who live on it. People have dug bikes out of sheds and are on them every day.
We do not need to lose all this as our public health crisis eases; indeed if we are to avoid ever more damaging climate change, we must not.