GB News guests debate using electric cars

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A new study has warned that the UK’s transition away from using petrol and diesel cars could have negative consequences, as increased electric vehicle (EV) use could create more traffic, reduce active travel, and increase inequalities. In an effort to reach the UK’s legally binding net zero commitments, the Government has looked to rapidly change the transportation sector, by phasing out fossil fuel cars for electric vehicles. However, a new study suggests that EVs present multiple challenges for air quality, mobility and health, including risks from non-exhaust emissions (NEEs) and increasing reliance on vehicles for short trips, Express.co.uk was told.

EV sales in the UK are soaring, as the Department for Transportation notes that battery and hybrid EVs now make up more than half of all new cars sold and fully electric car sales have risen by 70 percent in the last year, now representing 1 in 6 new cars joining UK roads.

Aside from boosting EV sales, the Government is also looking to ban the sales of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK by 2030, in line with the rest of Europe.

Dr Alexandra Penn, a Senior Research Fellow in Sociology at the University of Surrey, said: “Our recent work on UK transport has suggested that a policy push to switch to electric cars could have indirect negative effects on traffic congestion, viability of public transport, liveable streets, active travel, and equitable access to transport.”

In a recent study, Dr Penn and her colleagues used a method known as Participatory Systems Mapping, where they built a “causal map” of the UK’s transport system.

The map allowed the research team to explore interactions and unexpected effects in the transport industry, including how carbon emissions, air quality, health and equitable access to mobility are connected.

The evidence they found was the people who owned electrics cars drove more often than those with fossil fuel cars, even for short trips where normally might have walked, cycled, or taken a bus. 

Dr Penn said: “Our modelling work showed that the resulting increase in traffic and congestion from a switch to electric cars could cause negative knock-on effects on the reliability and financial viability of public transport, access to affordable transport, pleasantness and livability of neighbourhoods, and levels of active travel, and health as well.”

While EVs are touted as the solution to air pollution, researchers found that there could be an increasing in particulate pollution from tyres and brakes, due to increased traffic.

Meanwhile, researchers warned that the impacts on poorer communities were particularly strong as they relied most on public transport and were more likely to live on traffic-heavy streets.

Given how critical EV’s have been to countries, decarbonisation strategy, Dr Penn warned that the Government needs to use a “whole-systems approaches to design policies which enhance health, economic and equity outcomes, as well as decreasing carbon emissions and improving air quality.” 

Speaking to Express.co.uk, she said: “An equitable transport system of the future gets everyone where they need to go, whether they can afford a private vehicle or not, and also helps to create healthy liveable places for everyone.

“There is no one size fits all approach for this, as what works will vary place to place. But it would usually be built on a bedrock of affordable, accessible, clean public transport as well as safe streets for walking and cycling.”

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She urged the Government to “get serious about supporting public transport”, particularly by providing funding for more buses, bus routes and clean fleets and making sure that they have priority in traffic.

She continued: “Routes need to connect all the places people need to get to, nursery, shops, work etc, not just focusing on commuters, and ticketing needs to be based around how people live, for example, making lots of small journeys in a day rather than just into or out of the office.

“This needs to be combined with active measures to reduce car travel and the need for it whilst making sure good alternatives are in place. And really crucially, thinking about transport needs to be combined with the planning system.

“Making sure that there are safe walkable routes to local shops and services by building affordable housing and facilities people need close together. Sheltered accommodation for older people within easy walking distance of shops, doctors, and libraries, for example.  This sort of thinking could make a huge difference to peoples’ quality of life and independence.”

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