Electric vehicles appear a promising solution to the climate change crisis, but looking closer, switching to an electric vehicle is not enough. The cities need to be built differently to reduce trip distances. We need to use more public transport and active travel. Electric vehicles help, but are not a panacea to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
- Cannot get enough EVs
- Possible incentives to increase EV sales in the ACT
- EVs are not enough without active travel
- Strategies for mode share change
Cannot get enough EVs
Electric vehicles (EVs) assist in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from transport. Supply is not the biggest problem to increasing the share of our fleet (all cars) that are EVs. Greater still is that we keep our cars so long that internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles will take decades to phase out.
ACT has more EVs than any other Australian city (Shane Rattenbury) but as with most things related to climate change, Australia is at the back of the pack compared to other countries, particularly in Europe. In Denmark, EVs are the norm. Despite the gains with EVs, Australia struggles to reduce emissions from vehicles.
EVs reduce GHGs but SUVs cancel out any gains
The sales of electric vehicles (EV) are booming around the world. EVs are great but they do not solve the congestion problem in our cities where space is of a premium. Electric vehicles, though, reduce emissions of green house gases (GHG) and contribute to climate change mitigation. The sales of SUVs are also booming, which is unfortunate, as these vehicles are so big and heavy to cancel out any gains we have achieved from the sales of electric vehicles.
A recent analysis found the emissions saved from electric cars have been more than cancelled out by the increase in gas-guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs). Around the world, SUVs alone emit more carbon pollution than Canada or Germany, and are causing a bigger increase in climate pollution than heavy industry.Kimberly Nicholas, 12 best ways to get cars out of cities ranked by new research, The Conversation, 14 April 2022.
A divided world of EVs
On one hand we have announcement to phase internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.
To date, around 34 countries have announced policies that set a future deadline for banning new registrations of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. This has been accompanied by announcements from automakers such as Ford, Volkswagen and General Motors of plans to phase out ICE cars from their production lines.Laura Cozzi, Apostolos Petropoulos, Global SUV sales set another record in 2021, setting back efforts to reduce emissions, IEA, 21 December 2021.
On the other hand, SUVs sales are growing.
Global SUV sales have proven very resilient throughout the pandemic, growing by over 10% between 2020 and 2021. In 2021, SUVs are on course to account for more than 45% of global car sales – setting a new record in terms of both volume and market share. The growth of SUVs continues to be robust in several countries, including the United States, India and across Europe.Laura Cozzi, Apostolos Petropoulos, Global SUV sales set another record in 2021, setting back efforts to reduce emissions, IEA, 21 December 2021.
It would seem that Australia belongs to the later group.
Possible incentives to increase EV sales in the ACT
Bad news here. Under the best scenario, electric cars will make up only 30% of new cars sold in 5 year’s time, and under more likely scenarios no more than between 6-11%. Worse still, under the best scenario, 95% of the ACT fleet will still be fuel guzzling vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE). The changes are too slow to reduce our greenhouse emissions from transport quickly.
Selling electric vehicles in the ACT is not easy. We almost no public charging options, limited supply and demand is also limited. A recent study from the University of Canberra, shows that dropping the price by half triples the uptake. The more possible measures of stamp duty exemption, $15,000 zero interest loans, and free registration have only a marginal effect. The combination of these measures (first only, first two, then all three) is shown in the chart below.
EVs are not enough without active travel
The Institute for Sensible Transport has provided advice on how to reduce greenhouse gasses (GHG) in Melbourne through strategic changes to the transport infrastructure. Melbourne dedicates the largest share of public space to the least efficient form of transport with the highest emissions: the private car. The solution is it allocate priorities and resources to people who walk, people who ride and people who travel on public transport.
Greenhouse Gas emissions
In the illustration below, the black balloons shows the emissions from GHG per km travelled for each mode of transport (green icon). The size of the green feet icons represents the space (m2) required per occupant. Private cars have high GHG emissions and take up a lot of space.
Space is our cities is of a premium and expensive. The mitigation of climate change requires the reduction of GHG emissions. The more we ride bikes and walk the better. So how do we induce this transformation.
Fuel emissions are poor in Australia and have improved little in 40 years.
The Australian motor vehicle fleet has shown only modest fuel efficiency improvements over the last 40 years, from around 12 litres per 100km to around 10 litres per 100km.Transport and Climate Change, Institute for Sensible Transport, accessed 17 March 2022
Electric Vehicles (EV) are clean but take up just as much space on the roads as combustion engined vehicles. Electric Vehicles (EV) are not space efficient.
Scenarios to reduce GHG emissions
Melbourne already has high levels of walking and public transport use. Good for them, Canberra is far behind. The Institute for Sensible Transport modelled three scenarios: business as usual, moderate reductions and strong reductions.
|scenario||busines as usual||moderate reductions||strong reductions|
The Institute for Sensible Transport considered the effect of increasing the mode share of cycling from a low 4% to 13%. This would be a massive increase for the ACT. Even then, the transport emission per person decrease only by 60% from 320 kg CO2 per year to 140 kg CO2 per year. That may seem a little disappointing, and demonstrates the magnitude of the change to our lifestyles required to get on top of climate change.
Should Canberra increase the mode share for cycling from around the current 3% to 13% would result in a huge reduction of GHG emissions. A worth goal, but how do we do it?
Strategies for mode share change
Reallocation of road space
Road space is a scarce commodity. It makes sense to reallocate road space away from the dirty and polluting forms of transport, that we do not want more of, to more efficient and clean forms of transport we need: cycling and walking.
Current road space allocation in the City of Melbourne is a legacy of car orientated planning which emerged from the post-war boom. There is significant scope to reallocate road space to focus on creating more conducive conditions for walking, cycling, and public transport.Transport and Climate Change, Institute for Sensible Transport, accessed 17 March 2022
We can make popup bike infrastructure from car lanes. Some parking is required but we have far too much of it. One study noted (not sure which city) that for every car the city had 6 parking spots. How this happens is clear, if you own a car you need not only a parking area at home but many across the city. That is a lot of wastes space.
Places we might need to store our car:
- one at home
- one at work and
- one at the school where you pick up your kids,
- one at the sport oval,
- one at the shops.
By converting motor vehicle travel lanes or parking bays towards enhanced conditions for sustainable transport (e.g. priority bus lanes, wider footpaths, protected bicycle infrastructure), greater numbers of people will be able to access the city centre, whilst at the same time emitting less carbon. Although there will always be a need for the parking of motor vehicles, including deliveries and other commercial activities, current levels of car parking are higher than optimal.Transport and Climate Change, Institute for Sensible Transport, accessed 17 March 2022
Prioritise intersections for sustainable modes
The signalised intersections can be reprogrammed to prioritise walking and cycling and more attractive than driving with a private motor vehicle. Currently, the opposite is the case. Our cities are laid out for cars and the lights switched in the interest of motoring efficiency. The Moving Canberra 2019-2045 Integrated Transport Strategy sets priority on walking and then cycling. Prioritise intersections for sustainable modes is the next step.
There are several important reasons intersections are vital opportunities in which to implement sustainable transport initiatives. Firstly, intersections have a disproportionate number of crashes, and in the City of Melbourne, many of these crashes involve pedestrians and cyclists (City of Melbourne, 2014a; VicRoads, 2017). Secondly, intersections are a cause of delay, and given the importance of travel time to transport mode choice, intersections offer an excellent opportunity to reduce travel delay for the modes an authority seeks to enhance. This approach will complement road space allocation initiatives that also prioritise walking, cycling and public transport.Transport and Climate Change, Institute for Sensible Transport, accessed 17 March 2022
For the record, the study has two further recommendations:
- Charging the way we pay for motor vehicle use (road user pricing) and
- Lowering the emissions intensity of motorised transport.
Reallocation of road space means we have more than enough space for cycle infrastructure in Canberra. Prioritise intersections for sustainable modes would make navigating roads for pedestrians and cyclist much faster and easier. The ACT declared a climate change emergency in 2019. There is no reason to delay.