How failing to manage electric vehicles could inadvertently promote congestion and pollution, not reduce it…
The age of owning a private car has passed its peak. Fewer Londoners own a private car than ever before, with young people even less likely to do so. Instead, citizens are more reliant on public transport, cycling and private hire vehicles to get around the capital.
But despite this shift in behaviour, London’s toxic air pollution remains high with congestion sat above pre-Congestion Charge levels. The rising number of freight and private-hire vehicles, to both move us around and deliver our purchases, are just two of the reasons behind this. Failure to tackle air pollution and congestion will continue to put Londoners’ health at risk and damage the capital’s standing as a leading global city.
Electric vehicles (EVs) – the ‘new kid on the block’ – are the latest innovation to be hailed as a potential saviour. Recently, Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, launched an electric vehicle infrastructure taskforce to boost the rollout of EV infrastructure across the capital. This is good news: London needs to keep up with rapid technological changes and EVs offer the chance to improve air quality, since they produce less pollution at source than diesel or petrol cars.
In 2017, an independent Commission on the Future of London’s Roads and Streets1, convened by Centre for London, called for this infrastructure rollout as part of kerb space strategies, focusing on priority users and maximising capacity and efficiency. But it also identified the need to develop financial mechanisms to spread grid infrastructure costs fairly across each additional charging point, ensuring users pay a fair price for their use as demands on the grid increase. The taskforce should turn their attention to this as soon as possible.
Electric vehicles do have huge potential. An electric bus network and freight vehicles would be welcome changes. With the number of private hire vehicles ever increasing, better to be electric than the alternative.
But EVs are no panacea. Fewer vehicles, not just cleaner ones, are the key to tackling air pollution and congestion in our cities.