- Wherever possible, walk, cycle or take the bus.
- Recognise the real cost of just nipping out to the shops – plan your logistics to eliminate unnecessary journeys.
- If you need a car, go electric – with grants and interest-free loans.
Transport is the main cause of air pollution in our cities and responsible for almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. And the vast majority of those are from road transport. Clearly, we all need to do what we can to walk, hop on the bus or cycle instead. And if we have to drive a car, drive electric.
There are numerous problems we’ve yet to overcome in the rush to go electric, from the lack of appropriate infrastructure to the production – and disposal – of batteries. But it’s happening: the UK has committed to almost all cars and vans being zero emission by 2050, and charging points are popping up all over the country at a dizzying pace.
Most, though, will charge their cars at home. Not everyone has the space to install a charger, but then they’re likely to be living in a built-up area, closer to public transport. It’s the people like me in the countryside, dependent on our cars, who can make the biggest impact by going electric, especially if we can charge them with green electricity or, better yet, our own solar panels.
More than half of car journeys are under 5 miles. My usual is just 2 miles to drop off the kids or pick them up. Or it’s 3 miles into our nearby town, laden with just too much to make a bike feasible and too little time to walk. Or it’s 20 miles into Edinburgh, or 40 to catch the train to London. There is no bus route past our door and so, while our usual destinations are all close by (and well within an EV’s range), a car is a necessity. But I begrudge burning enough carbon to power 1.5 tons of metal when I’m only nipping out for a take-away or because my son’s forgotten his gum guard.
Which is why, any day now, we’re taking possession of a Nissan Leaf. Thanks to a government grant of £3,500 and a 100%, interest-free loan from the Energy Saving Trust, we’ve paid nothing but £250 in deposit. We’ve then got six years to pay back a little less than £27,000. We’re also getting up to £800 of grants to cover the cost of installing our charger – which effectively makes that part free.
For all the incentives, an electric car is clearly not cheap. But it’s those with the highest income who drive the most – by far – and so surely have the greater responsibility to make the change. And the more we EV owners use our cars, the more we’ll gain from the investment: rather than 12p/mile in petrol, we’ll be paying 3-4p/mile – less if we can charge the car during the day from solar panels. Alternatively there are now green tariffs intended for EV drivers offering a vastly reduced night-time rate.
For many, our decision to go electric probably says it all: my wife and I don’t really care that much about cars, as long as we can get from A to B. Aside from one brief test-drive, I can’t yet comment on its performance. For me, the real value will be in cruising round the country on sunshine and wind; for my wife, it’ll be the ability to shout ‘I’m just nipping to the shops’ without launching a tirade of self-righteous tutting.