Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 19:04 UK

Harrabin's Notes: Green transport?

In a new column, the BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin draws on his experience of a quarter of a century reporting the environment to ask where the "green fairness" can be found in the UK government's low-carbon transport strategy.

THE LOW EMISSIONS WINNERS AND LOSERS
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Electrification of the Swansea-London line will come as a relief to anyone who has chewed the air at Paddington Station.

It will also cut CO2 emissions on the line by about 30%. But what about transport's general contribution to the UK's carbon-reduction targets?

A new analysis by the respected journal Environmental Data Services (ENDS) examines how transport has got away lightly in the far-reaching cross-government drive to cut emissions announced last week.

Transport will have to reduce emissions 14% from current levels by 2022 - less than the overall government total of an 18% cut two years earlier.

ENDS will point out that the projected transport emissions cuts will come almost entirely from promoting controversial bio-fuels, and by improving the performance of new vehicles under EU rules whose results can't be guaranteed. EU rules for vans don't even yet exist.

What's more if the measures do succeed, there will be an unfortunate side-effect. According to the government's own projections, there will be more traffic, noise, air pollution, accidents and congestion as people drive further in their more efficient cars.

The editor of ENDS, Nicholas Schoon, says the government should do much more to jolt people out of cars on to walking, cycling and public transport - and reverse the trend in which driving is getting cheaper compared with public transport.

The Department for Transport says it does want to coax people out of their cars but couldn't bank on its measures succeeding so it hasn't relied on any emissions savings that way in its document.

Ministers are nervous of doing anything that could be construed as an infringement of people's mobility - even if it means that other sectors of the economy will have to work much harder to cut emissions as a result

Meanwhile, the Transport Select Committee is also calling for the government to reverse the growing gap between rising public transport fares and driving - and for the introduction of a pay-per-mile charge for lorries.

Calculations by the Campaign for Rural England of the Low Carbon Transport paper shows the cost of driving by 2015 for those who can afford the latest energy-efficient cars will fall by at least 10%. For those who cannot afford an efficient new car, it will increase by 8%.

Drivers in cities who buy electric cars will pay only a few pence a mile to drive. CPRE fears the plans will disadvantage people in rural areas, and poor people who can't afford new cars.

The Association of British Drivers says it opposes any attempt to put up the cost of driving as motorists already pay more than their share for the amount of carbon they produce.

The issue of equity amongst transport users - including between drivers of different income - is a serious barrier to progressive transport policies. I first mentioned it to ministers at the end of the Conservative administration, but there's been a dearth of imaginative solutions. I don't claim any great ideas myself…

And as the boom in car ownership continues, according to recent figures, it becomes harder and harder to run public transport without ever-increasing subsidy to combat dwindling revenue from fares.



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