As Britain emerges from lockdown, the country’s roads are once again becoming congested with cars. With the UK Government particularly keen for workers to return to their offices, traffic levels are on the rise. This is not good news for the environment.
The climate crisis may have been overshadowed by the global health pandemic, but it has not gone away. Far from it. Only this month new scientific research highlighted the impact of the human-caused climate emergency on extreme events, including storms and heatwaves in the UK.
Transport is now the single largest emitting sector in Scotland, accounting for 37 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. While much of the action necessary to tackle this will fall on governments, individual choices can help ensure we do things differently in the post-Covid world. The largest source of transport emissions in Scotland is cars, at around 40 per cent. Prior to lockdown, over two-thirds of Scotland’s commuters drove to work by car or van and 66 per cent of all journeys in Scotland were single-occupancy trips.
The way to drive down these numbers is through shared transport: car clubs; shared rides; and bike hire. While these schemes are not always available in rural areas where cars are necessary, they are commonplace in Scotland’s cities where congestion is a growing problem.
There are now over 25,000 members of car clubs in Scotland, up 27 per cent in just one year, and last year schemes in Scotland saved 354 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Not only are car-club vehicles more environmentally friendly than the average privately owned car because many are electric or hybrid, each car takes around 14 private cars off the road. This can transform our cities for everyone, with a positive effect on parking, congestion and local air quality.
Shared transport can also help tackle a range of socio-economic barriers facing many people by offering more accessible, and often lower cost, options of getting around. Bike share is an initiative that has taken off in recent years, with the four Scottish schemes in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Forth Valley particularly popular.
At the moment, operators in Edinburgh and Glasgow are offering reduced hire rates to encourage people to try cycling through an initiative organised by CoMoUK with Scottish Government funding. The government and councils are also investing in infrastructure such as cycle lanes to make it easier and safer for commuters to cycle. As well as taking cars off the road, bike share schemes can free up spaces on public transport and deliver physical and mental health benefits.
Bike sharing doesn’t necessarily mean cycling for the entire journey either, as around a quarter of bike share members use the schemes in conjunction with train service, and a fifth with bus services. In many European and North American cities what are known as ‘mobility hubs’ have become commonplace. These are where public and shared transport modes are co-located, perhaps incorporating bike hire, buses, trains, trams and car clubs all in one location. We must not get left behind here in the UK.
With a clear demand for new housing in Scotland, it’s vital that mobility hubs are part of the consideration when new developments are at the planning stage. The coronavirus crisis has changed the future in many unexpected ways.
From Zoom calls with friends, family and colleagues to home-working, for many there may never be a return to the old ways. We must not lose this opportunity to also change the way we travel, for the sake of our health, our cities and our planet’s future.
Lorna Finlayson is Scotland director of CoMoUK
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