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We can solve air pollution with the right transport interventions

We can solve air pollution with the right transport interventions
4 min read

Oxford city council is not asleep at the wheel. With plans for Britain’s first zero emission zone and a proactive approach to electric vehicle use, the authority is prioritising green transport.

What will the roads of Britain’s future look like? Will we see driverless vehicles any time soon? When might cars powered by fossil fuels entirely disappear from our highways?

In Oxford, we’re innovating the types of vehicles and supporting infrastructure that will eventually become commonplace nationwide. In our city, we’re seeing the future a little earlier than most.

Emptying our streets of non-essential car journeys is at the heart of our ambition to be a zero emissions city. And where vehicles are necessary, we are determined that those vehicles will not contribute to air pollution and climate change.

This August, we’re introducing a pilot scheme for Britain’s first zero emission zone. The city council is licensing for a zero emissions taxi fleet by 2025 under the UK’s toughest regulations, while Oxford looks set to be one of the UK’s first all-electric bus cities.

We are creating the UK’s largest electric vehicle (EV) charging hub this year and trialling technology such as the world’s first ‘pop-up’ chargers. Our council is responsible for a third of all public EV charging infrastructure in the city. Energy is critical for electrifying transport, and Oxford has two of the UK’s four major energy systems: the £41m Energy Superhub Oxford, and the £40m Project LEO (local energy Oxfordshire) . 

Oxford city council is the first UK council to set a more challenging air quality target than the government’s legal limit. We want to build on our 26 per cent reduction in air pollution since 2013. With transport accounting for 16 per cent of citywide emissions, we have set a science-based plan to become a zero carbon city by 2040 or sooner.

On the advice of our chief scientist and in light of recommendations by the Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, the first assembly of its kind in a UK city, we will eliminate our contribution to climate change a decade before the national legal target.

Concerned about climate change, air pollution and congestion, Oxford city council will be reducing the number of cars choking up roads and belching out emissions through our congestion-busting plan, Connecting Oxford.

Important but busy roads will be limited to use by buses at key hours, and a workplace parking levy across the eastern arc will fund new and improved bus, walking and cycle routes. Our plan will help buses to flow freely with fewer cars on the road, which in turn attracts more people on to buses.

Citizens are open to modal shift, but they need modes to shift to. Residents are open to boarding the bus, but they need affordable, reliable, punctual buses to board.

The lockdowns have shown an exponential increase in people taking to their bikes in this, Britain’s second cycling city. But cyclists need more of the road space currently occupied by cars. For bus use to skyrocket and cycling to soar, the city just needs to topple that first domino – reduced car use.

Oxford is further discouraging non-essential car use by introducing more low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). In common with the rest of the country, Oxford’s LTNs are prompting heated debates about our relationship with car use. Cars give drivers a sense of control and convenience: you depart when you’re ready rather than when the bus comes. But, here in Oxford, as well as making the case for quieter and safer residential streets, we’re also asking people: how much freedom and control do you actually get by driving? Being trapped in stop-go traffic inflicts economic costs as well as emotional ones.

The measures we take can fix our transport problems right here, right now. They can also bring forth a more meaningful and happier way of living; one where people feel connected to each other and the places they love.

Tom Hayes is Labour deputy leader of Oxford city council, and the council’s cabinet member for green transport and Zero Carbon Oxford


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