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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Taking the green route
AVD's recumbent Windcheeter
Alternatives to petrol power are growing

By Working Lunch's Ian Jolly

An integrated - and greener - UK transport policy has long been a goal of the Labour government.

But while politicians wrestle with the claims made on behalf of the train, bus and motor industries, many businesses are ploughing their own environmentally friendly furrow.

Getting a conversion grant
Your car must be less than 12 months old
The make and model must feature on the approved Powershift list
The cleanest models can get grants of 75% - others might get nothing
Grants are distributed after the work is done
The huge increase in UK petrol prices in recent months has proved an unexpected marketing tool for alternative fuels.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has been available for some years, but is currently enjoying a much higher profile.

It has been helped by Chancellor Gordon Brown's budget announcements cutting the excise duty on LPG.

And steps are being taken to overcome one of the big obstacles facing the fuel - lack of availability.

By August there should be 500 refuelling points across the UK, with giants such as Shell and BP committed to adding LPG to their range.

'No downside'

The UK has 20,000 LPG-powered vehicles, with the Royal family, government and police forces leading the way.

But that is still far behind other European countries - Italy has 1.1m LPG vehicles, France 500,000 and Holland 360,000.

The tide is gradually turning, and businesses such as Motor-Gas Installations in Sheffield are aiming to capitalise on that.

Phil Short from Motor-Gas Installations
Phil Short: Demand is rocketing
Partner Phil Short says he has examined LPG carefully and can see no real downside.

Conversions are now becoming a big part of his garage business, with bookings weeks in advance.

"It's really taken off, and we have to decide now whether to make this the main focus of the business," he said.

"But I know that we could have a limited lifespan, because the big manufacturers will eventually start producing their own LPG models and there will be no more conversion work for us."

In the boot

Switching to LPG takes two to three days of work and costs from about 1,400.

The gas tank is usually fitted in the boot of cars and in or beneath the freight compartment on commercial vehicles.

An LPG fuel pump
Refuelling is the same as using a petrol pump
The most common set-up is a bi-fuel system, where a dashboard-mounted switch can change from one fuel to the other, even when the vehicle is in motion.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) can also be used to power vehicles, although the two systems are not compatible.

A compression unit is being developed which could make it possible for motorists to fill up overnight from their domestic gas supply.

Grants available

With petrol at well over 80p per litre, the attraction of gas at less than 40p is obvious.

A Liquefied Petroleum Gas-powered car
It looks and drives like a petrol powered car
And for company fleets with their own filling unit, that could fall to about 24p per litre.

Grants are available from the government-backed Energy Saving Trust to help with the cost of conversion on certain vehicles - although Phil Short believes the criteria are too rigid and need relaxing.

He is also concerned that as LPG becomes more widely used, the duty could be increased to raise more revenue for the government.

But the end result is a 75% reduction in carbon monoxide emissions and hydrocarbons down 80% compared with petrol cars.

National cycle route

Another sector looking to benefit from a greener transport policy is the cycle industry.

There are more bikes than cars in the UK, but only a small percentage are used regularly.

It is hoped that the newly opened National Cycle Network, with 5,000 miles of quiet roads and specially constructed paths, will encourage commuters and leisure cyclists alike.

But there is some concern at how committed the authorities are to getting people to change to pedal power.

Cycle taxis

Bob Dixon runs Advanced Vehicle Design (AVD) in Altrincham, making a range of sports and utility bikes - or human powered vehicles.

The Windcheetah recumbent tricycle costs from 2,000 upwards and is mainly popular in the United States.

Three-wheeled cycle taxis are also selling well abroad, but Mr Dixon believes red tape in the UK is hindering their success.

He says the government and local councils cannot agree on how the vehicles should be treated.

The presence of a small electric motor means they are being classed as motor vehicles and taxed accordingly.

Green Bush

Other countries are proving more enlightened, he says - the Republican Party in the US have just taken delivery of a fleet of taxis aimed at stressing the green credentials of presidential candidate George Bush.

But AVD is persevering, and turnover this year is expected to reach 500,000.

All orders are placed over the internet, and the workforce of seven produces 200 handmade cycles a year.

Businesses which have taken the green route are hoping that their products, coupled with government policy, will convert an increasing number of customers.

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See also:

21 Jun 00 | Business
The impact of high petrol prices
15 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Disasters blamed on pollution
21 Jun 00 | UK
To bike or not to bike?
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