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New UK Report Welcomes Moves to Promote Green Cars but Stresses Importance of Policies to Reduce Car Use

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), the focal point for UK research on sustainable energy, today launched an extensive review of policies which could significantly reduce transport CO2 emissions. The report, authored by experts from Aberdeen University, Imperial College and E4tech Consulting, finds that Government must do much more than promote electric cars if it wants rapid and deep cuts in transport emissions.

The report reviews more than 500 international reports and papers on the subject, each of which was categorized and assessed for relevance. It finds that policy can play a big role in helping drivers leave their car at home and that Britain lags behind the leading countries in use of cleaner modes of travel. Policies could have a large impact through reducing the need to travel and promoting walking, cycling, public transport and efficient driving, as well as encouraging low carbon cars.

The report reviews policies that bear upon two categories of choice: travel choices such as how and how far to travel and vehicle purchase choices. It also discusses fuel taxes and prices, which affect both travel and vehicle choices.

Subsidies for low carbon cars are likely to be effective, because the evidence is that people tend to discount long run costs. There is no point forcing car makers to produce low carbon options if no-one will buy them, so it is right that ambitious regulation is combined with grants and other incentives—including taxes on gas guzzlers—to deliver a transformation of the car fleet. But there is a bigger picture. If car travel becomes cheaper overall and car dependence grows then all our efforts to reduce emissions get harder and may take too long.

—Dr. Robert Gross, lead author

The report offers integrated conclusions as to the effectiveness of short-, medium- and long-term policies:

Short-term options with clear potential to reduce carbon emissions in the UK include ecodriving and speed enforcement, expanding the use of non-motorized modes and improving vehicle occupancy. Improving the off-peak utilization of existing public transport in cities and overall utilization of buses and trains outside the major metropolitan areas may also be possible. Policies to promote these options include travel planning, fuel and road price increases, dedicated infrastructure or prioritization for non-motorized modes, and training and education campaigns.

While policies to promote lower carbon car choices can have an immediate effect on new car sales it takes time for the vehicle fleet to turnover, so short run impacts on transport emissions are modest. Relatively low elasticity of demand for fuel suggests that the impact of fuel tax increases may be limited in the short run. Despite the political problems that surround fuel taxes in particular, prices can play an important role in determining travel and vehicle choices.

Medium-term potential exists in reallocating road space to extend bus and light rail provision. Road pricing and fuel tax rises, competitive fares and service improvements, combined with information provision through travel plans are likely to be effective policy packages. It may also be possible to accelerate a shift to a much more efficient vehicle fleet. Circulation and fuel taxes combined with ‘scrappage’ subsidies may be able to deliver this goal if combined with information and education.

In the long-term both travel and car choices can deliver significant emissions reduction: It is possible to provide an integrated approach to delivering new infrastructure for public transport and non-motorized modes, linked to land use planning such that demand for travel is reduced and significant mode and destination shifting is delivered. This is most likely to be achieved if support for mode shift is accompanied by road use and parking charges, fuel tax increases, road space reallocation and travel planning and other information provision campaigns.

Relative prices of different modes play an important role in shaping long-term travel choices. It is also possible over time to facilitate a substantial shift to lower carbon cars. Our review suggests that the most effective policies are emissions regulation, purchase taxes and fuel tax, aided by rules on marketing and labelling. Rebound effects need to be addressed.

The report stresses the importance of packaging policies together such that problems with one policy can be overcome by another. For example more economical driving styles can have a significant impact on emissions but need reinforcement through ongoing awareness campaigns, training and stricter enforcement of speed limits. Similarly, absolute reductions in emissions arising from efficiency improvements made over the last decade are less than might have been expected. This could be down to rebound effects such as people using fuel saved to drive further or faster, or choosing larger cars.




Why not just ban cars outright except for the rich and famous of course.

Will S

Land Use Planning is one of the most important factors in how car dependent a city (or nation) becomes. Sprawl ingrains car dependency; reactive transportation (vs proactive) is the next most serious mistake.


I agree Mannstein, our heavy dependence on vehicles in the United States was birthed from suburban sprawl, and the deterioration of public transit, not only in efficiency, but it was also degraded as a "poor" way to travel, independence and success comes with a spanking new car. I always wonder the next policies that will be made to rectify our car obsession, do you know of any eco concepts out there in terms of vehicles?


I agree Mannstein, our heavy dependence on vehicles in the United States was birthed from suburban sprawl, and the deterioration of public transit, not only in efficiency, but it was also degraded as a "poor" way to travel, independence and success comes with a spanking new car. I always wonder the next policies that will be made to rectify our car obsession, do you know of any eco concepts out there in terms of vehicles?


I agree Mannstein, our heavy dependence on vehicles in the United States was birthed from suburban sprawl, and the deterioration of public transit, not only in efficiency, but it was also degraded as a "poor" way to travel, independence and success comes with a spanking new car. I always wonder the next policies that will be made to rectify our car obsession, do you know of any eco concepts out there in terms of vehicles?


Hybrids allow people to drive a lot and feel better about it, for the environment, imported oil and their fuel costs. Out west in the U.S. everything is spread out, so you have to drive to get there. That is the way it is.


Banning cars is on the short list for How to Start a Revolt.



There more than one solution to our obsession to drive very large noisy polluting vehicles 20,000+ miles/year.

One cannot take those big noisy toys away without creating a national uproar.

Our overly sprawled cities and communities, lack of efficient fast commuter e-trains and very cheap gas have created the need for 2+ personal oversized vehicles per family.

Redesigning our inner cities with more high-rise appartments and more high speed subways could reduce the need for driving personal vehicles (in the inner-cities).

Connecting every suburban small cities/towns to major cities subway stations with High Speed commuter e-trains could reduce car traffic between those entities. (The smooth riding Regional double-deck e-trains in and around Paris is a good example)

Building Very High Speed (TGV Style) e-trains networks to link all major and mid-size cities would also reduce highway and air traffic.

Of course, common sense size HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs could do a lot to reduce noise, liquid fuel consumption and associated GHG.


Proposals? This has been happening for a long time in the UK already!

Fuel taxes were increased well above inflation since 1992 up to 2000 until the haulage industry prtested with much support from the public.

Roads have had traffic lanes robbed with horrificly executed centre hatching, intermittent cycle lanes that cyclists avoid, intermittent bus lanes and random pedestrian islands that serve to be obstacles to traffic instead of genuinly convenient crossing points.

Despite all these so called measures to reduce traffic, rates have still increased.

A big reason for traffic increasing in the UK since the war is that people have needed to travel further and further to get to work because of changing economic patterns. Long gone are the days where work was in the factory at the end of the terraced street. Nowadays people need to travel to industrial and office parks on ring roads. Many traditional and dense small settlements, especially old mining towns no longer have their main industry so people have had to travel to the next town and so on to work and have had to, not by choice, get and use a car.

Many people would love to live close to where they work and not have to spend money on buying cars and the overprived fuel to run them. But a poor choice of housing prevents this for many. And even when there is a good choice of housing, its probably too expensive. So then its cheaper to put $75-$100 in the tank to commute from cheaper housing elsewhere. Sadly its often too great a distance to walk, cycle, or find the correct bus or train service that gets people to work in the real world, on time for a reasonable fare.

I'm one of the lucky ones who can walk to work (4 miles) or take the metro and I have local shops that I can walk too. By rights I should be able to take the moral high ground and tell peole to do the same, but in reality doing such a thing is hard for others so I sympathise with people who can't and also sympathise with their opinions that people that carry out these types of studies really don't have a clue about the harsh impacts on these policies on people who can barely afford to get to work!

I suppose we could price people out of their cars and stop them getting to their jobs - hmm clever idea!


I think there is a certain civic and economic danger in trying to reduce car usage just on principle alone. In the long term, cars can be made emission-free, perfectly recyclable, and cheaper as technology becomes more streamlined. The car is the epitome of individual freedom, convenience, and flexibility. I have hard time believing that the act of driving a car takes away from other valuable modes of transport - buses perhaps, but the number of buses to car ratio is so small that it is irrelevant and buses are only used as infill in areas not effectively serviced by subways, high-volume transit, etc. I doubt that roads would ever be built just for the purpose of running buses or bicycles, though i have seen bus-only roadways - but it is the exception. People stuck in congestion accept that fact and try to be productive at that time. I doubt that congestion road rage individuals are not generally angry at other times anyway. Time in an overcrowded or noisy public transit vehicle is just dead time. Do you meet people? Do you enjoy waiting in snow, rain, and wind? Do you have the freedom to talk on your hands-free phone or play your own music or learn a new language or listen to an audiobook without overly noisy or disruptive conditions - without putting your headphone and ipod to full volume? I often think that the car debate is entirely class related. Many cannot afford a car or have made choices to live in an area where storage is impossible or simply have never owned a car and are unaware of the freedom -and- thus have a type of car-envy. I think it is time to accept cars as a primary form of travel that does not conflict with other modes of travel.

I also fail to see the hate for suburban sprawl: i find that suburbanites are happier, more fulfilled individuals with well-rounded children who have private space to play when parks cannot be suitably supervised constantly. There is effective barriers from your neighbor for sound and visual privacy. Plenty of space to entertain and store collectibles and be utterly away from all others - considered anti-social?- perhaps, but most city dwellers that i know are a lot less tolerant. What land is being lost - farmland? - who cares? There is no evidence that productivity is not increasing to fill the gap if needed. Wild forest? There are plenty of wild spaces for ecosystems to flourish and wildlife to function - just go a bit further out. How much nature is too much?

In addition, the car industry is a major employer, technology-facilitator, and source of government revenue. Ideally, transit would be developed and fast and widespread enough that people could have a choice a few times a week to relax on an alternative transport system with negligible commute time loss - very rarely the case. Very few people get up in the morning for work and say 'woohoo, i can't wait to experience transit!' - therefore keep all options open.

Also, evidence indicates that car owners and commuters are typically wealthier with a greater portion of property taxes and income taxes paid per capita. Car drivers are typically more productive and contribute to higher rates of consumption and fiscal activity. Though transit should be supported and improved to provide convenient and cost effective options, car use has more likely contributed to all the great things we see in society today. Think not of being anti-car but pro-option.

Andrey Levin

Just wondering, is it brits voters who mandated their government to do anything possible to “get peoples out of their cars”, or fgb is no longer democracy?


Scott I agree somewhat that there are benefits to driving vehicles, they are the epitome of wealth, freedom, and independence, but the problem lies in the fact that they are not the most efficient use of transport. The amount of time we waste in vehicles, in traffic gridlock, trying to find parking, traversing the vast amount of wasted space of the inefficient sprawl, is a ridiculous amount. I don't think that all cars should be banned, but I think there has to be a bigger push for a middle ground.

No one likes change, when the status quo suffices, but in the long run those things we consider to be nice conveniences that aren't hurting anyone, has to be changed. Yeah there are streamlined concepts out there, but they aren't being mass produced because it would shake the industry. People also are reluctant to change their behavior, because for most its just not a priority. I think that these ideals have to be shaped by the educational system, education is key to changing the passive, indifferent attitudes we all have towards changing our lifestyles.


People may look at driving like health care back in 1993, it was seen as either expensive inefficient private care or inadequate bureaucratic government care.

The people recoiled from government and limitations. With driving, they recoil from mass transit and waiting in lines like wage slaves. I know this is an extreme characterization, but sometimes reactions take on irrational proportions.

Driving their big 10 mpg SUV is seen as freedom. It is the freedom to enslave others with less available higher priced fuel, due to excessive wasteful demand....but it is seen as freedom none the less.

Will S

Jer wrote;

I think there is a certain civic and economic danger in trying to reduce car usage just on principle alone.

There are many reasons to reduce car usage;

1. Peak Oil: Car usage will decline anyway once we pass the peak of global oil production. Not preparing ahead of time will result in severe economic consequences.

2. Climate change: Reducing car usage will reduce climate impacts from GHG emissions.

3. Terrorism: Many terrorists are funded by citizens from oil-rich middle eastern countries who give to 'charities'

Your "don't worry, be happy" admonishment is an exhortation to continue wasteful practices in order to achieve happiness via mass consumption. I'd have to say that your sense of happiness is a shallow and meaningless one.

Andrey Levin

Personal transportation constitutes big chunk of personal freedom. Not everyone is fond of this principle. Hence ongoing war against personal transportation. The moment of truth will arrive when France (having near zero GHG emission electricity) will convert most of their auto fleet to electricity: PHEVs and BEVs. We will see what excuses will be invented to continue this war.


If it were a freedom with no linkage, it would be a victimless crime. The linkage is that we all need and use fuel and there is only so much to go around at a given price. Ultimately there will be none to go around sooner or later at any price.


Equating personal freedom with car ownership means you're only free if you can pay for it.


Andrey Levin is a slave of Texaco.

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