Lockdown has been a cyclist’s paradise, with much talk about active travel, but then the Prime Minister encouraged us to take to our cars again and told us that we must avoid public transport. At a stroke, the benefits of lower emissions, for our planet and for our personal health, are potentially lost. In fact, it is significantly worse than it was before the pandemic, because, normally, 14.5 million people drive to work across England and Wales each day, and 4.2 million people use public transport. A study by Westminster University predicts that there will now be 1 million additional rush hour vehicles using the roads. That is a 22% increase in London, for example, and it is unsustainable in every sense of the word.
Ironically, the virus has given us a glimpse of a less polluted, healthier world. The Government must seize the moment to introduce radical, comprehensive measures to reduce transport-related pollution, because transport is the biggest polluter. Such measures include changing the planning rules so that no new housing developments can be built until a safe, active travel network is in place; moving freight off the roads and on to rail; electrifying the railways; and reinvigorating the bus industry by funding greener buses and devolving real powers to local authorities to control them. We should reward those who work from home, and, wherever possible, we should take services to people in rural areas.
We need a sustainable transport revolution starting now and not at some distant target date.