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The word October with a magnifying glass

In the past month, the transport industry has continued to see a push towards active travel as the green recovery from Covid-19 continues. This has been despite the apparent policy shift by the Secretary of State for Transport.

In a letter to English local authorities earlier in October, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, asked local authorities to ‘balance the needs of cyclists and pedestrians with the needs of other road users, including motorists and local businesses.’ The Secretary of State ended the letter by saying ‘no one should be in doubt about our support for motorists.’ This is in contrast to the government’s position earlier in the year when it said cyclists and pedestrians would be favoured.

October has also seen significant focus on e-mobility, with many more cities introducing electric scooter trials, and a continuing positive trend in the transition to electric vehicles and phasing out of petrol and diesel cars. Related to this, the Centre for London and 18 organisations, calling themselves the London Micromobility Alliance, published an open letter calling on the government to support the rollout of micro-mobility vehicles (e-scooters, e-cargo bikes and e-bikes) across London.

We also celebrated Clean Air Day, the UK’s largest air pollution campaign. This year the campaign was run virtually, but still hugely engaging, with over 45,000 social media posts.

At the start of the month, the PM launched a review aimed at improving transport connections across the UK, as part of a plan to boost the pandemic hit economy. The review will look at areas including air links within the country, road and rail links in Scotland, the Welsh rail network, as well as the practicality of building a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In this briefing, we take a look at some of the key events during October in our core policy areas of transport and diversity.

Transport Planning

October saw the launch of the Transport Planning Society’s State of the Nations Report. This is a record of the current state of transport and transport planning across the UK. It highlights what is going well and areas where we can make improvements in order to achieve a low carbon transport system and better places for people.

Most notably, the report concluded travel in Britain is dominated by motor vehicles – cars account for 61% of journeys and 77% of distances travelled in England. However, even before Covid-19, travel was changing. Overall travel has declined in the last 20 years and car journeys have fallen, while van traffic has increased by over 50%. Rail use has grown until the onset of the pandemic.

The report’s conclusions and recommendations:

  • Transport policy needs to be more inclusive. Transport decarbonisation plans are welcome, but the need to link to spatial planning and to transport spending priorities.
  • City-region transport authorities are welcome, but outside these transport and spatial planning is fragmented and in general local authorities do not have the range of powers they need to manage transport effectively.
  • Transport planning is an increasingly valued profession but there are skills gaps. There are now high quality professional qualifications, covering all levels of work, and an established professional development scheme: these need more recognition and support.
  • Transport funding needs reform; transport projects which increase carbon emissions must be withdrawn and funding for low and zero carbon transport projects increased and made longer term and flexible. The cost of using public transport should be reduced.
  • Transport taxation should be reformed to support decarbonisation. Local authorities should have more powers to raise funding for transport and should make greater use of existing powers. 
  • Transport modelling, forecasts and appraisal systems need radical reform.

Active travel

At the start of October we celebrated Walk to School Week, where children were encouraged to be more active and reach their minimum 60 minutes of exercise each day. 

We have seen many more positive announcements relating to active travel during the past month, including:

  • The Department of Transport released its National Travel Attitudes Study earlier in October. Figures in the report show the Covid-19 pandemic has had a ‘substantial and potentially sustainable’ impact on active travel. Between May and July 2020, 39% of people reported they walk more and 38% of people said they cycled more than before the outbreak.
  • The report also revealed that 94% of survey respondents said they would continue to walk and cycle more once Covid-19 restrictions were removed.
  • The Mayor of Greater Manchester has announced the area will receive 55 miles of new cycle routes and 140 new crossings by December 2021. All of Greater Manchester’s 10 districts will benefit from the routes.
  • Birmingham City Council has invited local cyclists to try out some of its new pop-up cycle lanes, which have been delivered as part of the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund Allocation.
  • A smart traffic light system that prioritises cyclists over motorists has been tested this month in Wolverhampton, Coventry and Southampton. The Artificial Intelligence technology aims to reduce the likelihood of road accidents.
  • Aberdeen City Council has launched a new smartphone app that will help people better plan and price their journeys around the city and encourage more walking and cycling.

Public transport

October saw the launch of a major scientific study to understand the risks of Covid-19 transmission on buses and trains – and to identify the best measures to control it. This is very good news especially since figures recently announced by the Department of Transport in their National Travel Attitudes Survey show people have far greater concerns about using public transport than cycling or walking. 89% of people were reported to be concerned about travelling on a train, and 85% were concerned about using buses. 

These figures were reinforced by research carried out by leading provider for business mobility, Alphabet (GB) into how the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated changes to travel and transport. The study found only 6% of those travelling to work by train feel comfortable, dropping to just 4% for Tube users.

Other news in public transport this month includes:

Buses

  • West Yorkshire’s first ever zero emission bus fleet entered service in Leeds this month. This represents a multi-million pound investment by First Bus in partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Council.
  • The first electric buses launched earlier this month in Newport, in a bid to improve air quality in the city. A fleet of 15 new buses were introduced on 12thOctober on routes throughout the city.
  • Birmingham City Council has purchased 20 new hydrogen double decker buses as part of its Clean Air Hydrogen Bus Pilot. The buses will be phased into use from April 2021.
  • First Bus has been award over £4m as part of Transport Scotland’s new funding programme, the Scottish Ultra Low Emission Bus Scheme. The funding will go towards purchasing 22 new fully electric buses for the Glasgow bus network. Both the vehicles and relevant infrastructure will ready by Autumn 2021.

Rail

  • Trials for the first hydrogen-fuelled train started earlierin October. The ‘Hydroflex’ train ran on the UK mainline for the first time ever following two years of development. The technology, which uses hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, will be available to retrofit existing trains by 2023. 

  • Proposals are progressing to create an underground rail network in Bristol. The new transport network could lead to significant numbers of people leaving their cars behind, resulting in lower carbon emissions and better air quality. 
  • Edinburgh Trams will be sharing an additional £4m of funding with the Glasgow Subway. The funding from Transport Scotland is aimed to help the systems continue to operate a service following vastly lower passenger numbers as a result of Covid-19.
  • Diesel train engines will be deactivated in stations under government-backed plans to cut levels of air pollution on platforms. Trains will be fitted with battery technology to allow drivers to switch to zero-emissions mode while entering and leaving stations.
  • The Welsh Government has confirmed it will take full ownership of Transport for Wales following a fall in passenger numbers due to the coronavirus crisis. From February 2021, day to day rail services will be delivered by a new government-owned subsidiary of Transport for Wales.

E-mobility

Electric vehicles (EVs):

  • Recent statistics from Zap-Map, the UK-wide map of charging points, show there are now 33,779 charging points for electric vehicles in the UK. This figure has risen from 8,841 (39%) in the past 12 months.
  • Amazon unveiled its first customised on-the-road electric delivery van, as part of its pledge to have a zero emissions fleet by 2040. Amazon is aiming to get 10,000 EVs on the road as early as 2022, and 100,000 by 2030.
  • Scotland’s first fully operational electric bin lorry is taking to the streets. The lorry will collect an average of 1,800 bins each day, using a single overnight charge. The daily diesel cost to operate a traditional vehicle is around £100. The electricity charge for the new lorry is just £12.
  • According to a report from clean transport campaign group, Transport & Environment, one in ten new cars sold in Europe by the end of 2020 will be electric or hybrid, a three-fold increase on 2019 sales.
  • The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be the worst possible outcome for both the UK’s automotive sector and the hope of a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Increases in the cost of EU built electric vehicles could reduce demand by at least 20%, hampering the UK’s efforts to reach ambitious emissions reduction targets.

E-scooters:

During October many more cities and towns throughout the UK have been linked with e- scooter trials. The following places are either considering, have had approval or have now introduced electric scooter trials:

  • Nottingham
  • Redditch
  • Bristol
  • Bath
  • Glasgow
  • Basildon
  • Canterbury
  • Liverpool
  • Newcastle
  • York
  • Derby
  • Isle of Wight
  • Yeovil
  • Salford

Aside from e-scooter rentals, the privately-owned use of e-scooters remains illegal on public roads in the UK. However, retailer Halfords has reported a 450% increase in sales of e-scooters since the end of September.

Diversity:

Lots of activity relating to diversity during October, both in the transport industry and beyond.

  • The Office for National Statistics launched a report on the ethnicity pay gap. It found the pay gap between employees from white and ethnic minority backgrounds has narrowed to its smallest since 2012 in England and Wales. However, most ethnic minority groups continue to earn less than white British employees.
  • We saw the launch of The Tomorrow’s Engineers Code. This is a framework for organisations to get involved and help increase the number and diversity of young people in engineering.
  • The Equal Pay Implementation and Claims Bill was introduced in Parliament. The Bill seeks to prevent discrimination by giving women the right to know how much their male co-workers are paid.
  • The British Business Bank has launched a report titled ‘Alone Together: Entrepreneurship and Diversity in the UK’. The report looks at key factors in determining how successful an entrepreneur is. It found ‘there is systemic disadvantage for entrepreneurs who come from an ethnic minority background and who are female’.
  • Govia Thameslink Railway announced this month that, through a series of dedicated recruitment and marketing campaigns, they have successfully managed to double the number of female train driver applicants from 413 in 2019, to 825 in 2020.

We hope you found this roundup interesting and informative. Please contact us if you would like further information, or to find out more about the public affairs and diversity services we offer. Or sign up to our blog for up to date news, opinions and advice.