Chris Bibb argues that Wales can and must lead the way on the switch to low carbon transportation starting with micro-mobility.
In April 2019, the Welsh Government declared a climate emergency.
In its own words, a ‘clear signal that it will not allow the process of leaving the EU to detract from the challenge of climate change, which threatens our health, economy, infrastructure and natural environment’.
In other parts of the UK, a ban on selling new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars has been brought forward by the UK Government from 2040 to 2035, and the Scottish Government aims to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2032.
Reinforcing this thinking is the drive by local authorities to tackle the clean air agenda in Welsh cities and towns and to do all it can to reduce the need for people to jump in their petrol or diesel car.
With micro-mobility high on the news agenda, not just because of environmental concerns, but because of the Covid-19 impact on future public transport use, there has never been a better time to recognise and understand the opportunities an electric future offers; for the environment, infrastructure development, green energy production and e-leisure opportunities.
In all of this, Wales can lead the way.
But in order for an electric future to be embraced, there needs to be a culture change in how we think and how we are led. Local authorities are rightly looking to lead the way with the introduction of electric taxis and buses and to promote greener fleets weaving through the city streets, but they need to be bolder and act with greater speed and determination.
The UK parliament is finally beginning to see the light regarding electric scooters. The paradigm shift that they offer city dwellers is at last becoming apparent – so now the Welsh Government and local authorities need to be even more bold. This matter alone can be a win-win-win situation as well as a catalyst for further change – and Wales needs to embrace change like never before.
“Planning needs to explore and expand integrated cycle lanes for e-commuting for example, and weave home charging capability into all new house builds.”
Firstly, e-bikes and e-scooters get people out of cars. This reduces congestion and slashes pollution. But there’s another win too. The cost of a 5-10-mile electric scooter journey can be measured in pennies. In an age when young people believe themselves to be generation rent, how can politicians dither? Cost, pollution, congestion – but also safety.
Everyone knows that the biggest threat to the safety of a city’s pedestrians and cyclists is the motorcar. Fewer cars and more e-scooters and e-bikes mean greater safety, not less! How could a 12mph scooter weighing 80kg – with rider – be a greater danger than a 1.5 tonne car travelling at 30mph? And while you are thinking about the weight, think about the energy savings.
While there’s a cost to expanding cycle paths and better traffic integration, it should be far less than the cost of repairing inner city roads, no longer carrying the weight of so much traffic. If Wales is seen to lack vision, to be slow, bureaucratic, conservative and to drop the ball on this, why would investors come here?
But the public is absolutely crucial if we are to make the electric future a reality. The public needs to have confidence in going electric; that it makes sense and is viable, whether it’s an electric car, e-bike or e-scooter. It needs to feel real to them and evolution, not revolution, is the key. Beyond leadership, how do we bring about this culture change?
There needs to be education and therefore an understanding as to what the electric future looks like and a joined-up approach between politicians, business leaders and the public. The person on the street needs to see and feel the change coming and this has to take many forms.
Firstly, there needs to be greater knowledge of the electric products that are available; that they are economically viable, can perform as well, if not better, than the traditional fossil fuelled vehicles, that they are crucial for a greener environment, and can deliver a new, safer, leisure and lifestyle opportunity.
Secondly, there needs to be a focus on both infrastructure development, which includes roadside fast charging, on-street charging and workplace and retail park charging, as well as town and city planning. Planning needs to explore and expand integrated cycle lanes for e-commuting for example, and weave home charging capability into all new house builds.
And the charge towards increased green energy production needs to continue so the electric future can be realised in the most sustainable way via solar and wind energy.
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Wales can lead the way in this bright future and show it is open for business to this new world, bringing about new investment, job creation and growth in confidence. How?
It can engage with and attract organisations to Wales that are delivering on the electric promise, by utilising its automotive enterprise zone in Blaenau Gwent and building on the confidence having such well-known and cutting-edge companies as Aston Martin based in the country brings.
There is also hope that Wales can soon boast of a new GigaPlant for battery production in the region if plans by BritishVolt come to fruition in St Athan.
Its devolved powers in transport can make new opportunities possible and local authorities can actively introduce clean energy solutions to the daily service industries that we rely upon and seize the initiative for cities to trial e-scooters; something that is being encouraged by the Department for Transport in England at the moment.
The future IS bright, it IS electric, Wales just needs the confidence to harness the lightning!
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