The spring budget roadblocks our transport revolution

Transport is the largest emitting sector of the UK economy. With a quarter of our total emissions coming from domestic journeys alone.

Despite this enormous burden, decarbonising transport has been stagnant across the last 30 years, with emissions decreasing by roughly 0.2% annually. At this rate, it would take 600 years for UK transport emissions to reach net-zero!

Keeping those figures in mind - it's a huge problem that in this week’s budget the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced he will slash funding for walking and cycling projects, alongside further delays to the Birmingham to Crewe leg of HS2.

At the same time, this Government is persevering with investment into road projects such as the A27 Arundel Bypass and A5036 Port of Liverpool Access - known only to up demand and emissions in a disastrous move for people and the climate.

It's clear that a transport revolution must be at the core of a Green New Deal. Change which prioritises investment in green public transport must be top priority in future infrastructure spending.

The curse of car-dependency

90% of the UK’s domestic transport emissions come from motor vehicles. Society’s acceptance of car culture has not only harmed our environment, but made us poorer, worsened our health and destroyed beautiful city squares and green spaces in the name of car-convenience.

How did it ever come to this? Unsurprisingly, systemic design and political ideology are to blame for the rise of the car monster. Lobbying from the fossil fuel and motor lobby to accelerate road building schemes across the mid-20th century, alongside PR campaigns to demonise alternative modes have positioned the motor car as somehow synonymous with freedom and exploration.

Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have said, "If a man finds himself a passenger on a bus having attained the age of 26, he can count himself a failure in life." This belief has levelled homes, built expensive gargantuan highways, decimated public transport services and forced our acceptance of a road casualty epidemic, with daily heartbreak coming from fast, dangerous roads.

A culture of denial

Politicians aren't willing to face up to the inconvenient truth that motor freedom makes us poorer not richer. A recent report found 13% of car owners face transport poverty, increasing to 19% if the vehicle is purchased by loan or on finance. Tragically, widespread bias towards road investment has led to low provision of alternatives. Highways projects, promised to 'grow the economy', burden taxpayers - whilst only amplifying congestion, emissions, and ill-health.

Are electric cars the magic bullet? No, they will save the motor industry, not the planet. Mining of EV battery materials such as nickel, cobalt, and lithium carry a high emissions burden. So much so that the carbon footprint to build these vehicles is 80% higher than a petrol car, before the ignition key is even turned. Road danger and air pollution remain pressing issues for EVs, micro-particulates from tyre and brake wear continuing to contaminate our surroundings - toxic air is estimated to account for ~40,000 deaths annually in the UK alone. And with motor traffic predicted to grow 54% by 2060, it's clear we must not go on in this way.

Street Visualisations from Cycling UK

How can a Green New Deal revolutionise transport?

A Green New Deal must fundamentally change the way we think about transport. Whilst sectors like energy and manufacturing focus on growth of new green jobs and innovative ways to heat and light our homes - for transport, the solutions are ones we've had for years.

The Green New Deal will free rail and bus services from the shackles of privatisation. Public transport will no longer operate to line the pockets of shareholders, but to support the needs of the people it serves. A publicly owned, integrated transport system, with affordable fares and frequent provision across urban and rural regions will make public transport the easiest, cheapest way to get around. Investment into this sector will create thousands of secure, unionised jobs - and create a powerhouse industry people can rely on and be proud of.

We will break out of car-dependency. Our towns & cities will be transformed to create safe spaces for people and walking & cycling. Charging motorists to use roads at busy times and reduction of city car parking will make active travel the number one choice for short journeys - improving our health, cleaning our air, and allowing us to enjoy peaceful public spaces in comfort and confidence.  Is this achievable?  Look across to the Netherlands, and cities like Paris, Seville and Bogota - who have embraced the virtues of designing our cities for people, not cars.

What our streets could look like after a green transport revolution

Can I make a difference?

A Green New Deal will only happen with the mass-activation of thousands of young people. We have a responsibility to not only ourselves, but vulnerable communities across the world, susceptible to the harshest effects of a climate crisis they did little to cause themselves. Future generations, our families and children are dependent us to rise up and take collective action.

Sign up to the next Green New Deal Rising welcome call and find your place in this once in a generation movement, which will transform the world to serve the needs of people and our planet.