Looking forward to an electric 2022

The outlook for 2022 is uncertain, but one thing my household is looking forward to is switching from a conventional fossil-fuel powered vehicle to our first fully-battery-electric family car. As a one-car family on three-year contracts, we couldn’t find an affordable car with enough space and range for our needs in the summer of 2019, but this time we’ve ordered early so can still be certain to have the new vehicle before our contract runs out.

Our situation is not unique. Electric Vehicles (EV) make up less than 1% of the vehicles we see today on the UK’s roads, but almost 10% of new cars purchased in the past year have been battery electric. The transition is taking off. And once you have an EV on order, you soon start seeing other EV everywhere. Teslas are easy to spot, but it’s surprising how many other cars have little green squares on their registration plates.

I’ve started noticing the cars more recently, but I’d been taking note of EV charging stations or points for about two years now – ever since I started researching public charging options for residents who cannot charge at home.

I know from my research that the vast majority of private electric cars in the UK at the moment will usually be charged on someone’s driveway at their home. We certainly intend to do most of our charging at home on our driveway. Yet before we moved a little over a year ago, we would have struggled to find somewhere to charge an EV – another reason we put off buying one.

An estimated 25-30% of households in England park their cars on-street. But these are not the only type of household who may not be able to charge from home. Car parks, communal parking areas, private laybys and garage blocks are all forms of off-street residential parking, but installing a charger or even an electricity connection may not be straightforward.

Our situation before we moved was a case in point. We lived on an estate with communal car parking areas, no allocated spaces, and garages around the corner that were not supplied with electricity. We spoke to the estate managers before we chose our last car, and they said they’d think about installing EV charging in the future… but it was low on their priority list at the time.

Without an option to charge at home, switching to an electric car may seem impossible or at least challenging for residents of our former estate, as well as those who live in other more modern estates of flats, townhouses, maisonettes, and on the many historic terraced streets in cities, towns, and villages around the country.

So I have been on the lookout for public charging, and seen hubs at motorway services and in EV hotspots like Milton Keynes. I have seen them start to proliferate in ones and twos in supermarket car parks too – one was even installed at our local supermarket a couple of months ago.

But there doesn’t appear to be much strategic thinking behind the installation of most local public charging infrastructure to provide for residents without home charging. So our research asked: How much and where do these households need public charging? Should it be on-street or in car parks? What sort of service should this charging infrastructure provide? How can it offer flexibility both to the operator and the users? What will give households who can’t charge at home the confidence to switch to an electric car?

We are ready to present our findings and their policy implications in a webinar in February 2022, where we will also release a series of policy briefings to mark the end of this particular project. It’s another milestone to look forward to in what may be an uncertain year, but also promises to be, both personally and professionally, electric.

Thinking Transport Resolutions

My research related thoughts at the moment are still flitting around the subject discussed in my last blog post and have yet to land, so I thought for this January blog post, I might turn to a tried and tested topic – New Year’s Resolutions.

Many people will have made some New Year’s Resolutions over the past couple weeks, and a fair few are likely to have transport implications. For example:

Reducing plastic became a hot button issue in 2018, as not just tree huggers, but even avowed materialist consumers considering trying to make a few changes. This could be great news for our global environment, but I suggest a moment of reflection before you resolve to shop plastic-free for your dry-goods, when the nearest such outlet is miles away. Scientists agree that global warming and climate change is an even bigger problem than plastic pollution in our oceans, and transport, mainly airplanes and private motor vehicles, is overtaking other sectors as the biggest carbon emitter on the planet. So think carefully about whether you can make a resolution that reduces both plastic and mileage, whether yours, the product’s or both.

Speaking of mileage, as mentioned, air transport remains a big problem in terms of carbon emissions, with no near-term technical solutions. But another thing people often do at the turn of the year is book their next overseas holiday. Some might resolve to travel more slowly or have a stay-cation, but for those who are unwilling or unable to give up flying, when was the last time you considered carbon offsetting? It’s rarely given as an option anymore when you purchase your flights because airlines and other commercial actors are doing it for you, but surely every extra contribution helps. Not sure where to give? Find out what the big players are doing. For example, I was fascinated to read that the UK’s busiest airport, Heathrow, is investing in restoring peat bogs, which are important ecosystems in some parts of the UK and excellent carbon sinks. Perhaps more could be restored with your charitable donations? There are plenty of websites which can help decide to whom and how much to give.

Perhaps though, you’ve gone for a more traditional resolution, say to exercise more. Then I would put in a plug for switching some of or part of your regular daily trips to active travel modes – walking, cycling, scooting. Even if it’s simply parking a bit further away from where you’re going or getting off the bus a stop or two earlier, you’re much more likely to maintain your resolve if exercise is part of your daily routine than if you take up a sport or try to force yourself to the gym on a dark, cold night after work. And you’re helping more than yourself. Getting out of the car for even part of your journey reduces local air pollution, injects more vitality into the local community, and sets a good example!

So my proposition to all New Year’s resolvers is to think about whether you can make your resolution go further, and contribute to a better transport future.

Merry moving and a Happy New Year!


A Time to Stop

This blog is very unusual for a transport planner. I want to write about not moving. About stopping. Or not stopping, but being still.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a time to make resolutions and look forward to things to come and make plans to improve ourselves, improve our contribution to our community and our world. But although I would be the first to admit that I could always do more, do better, I would not count a lack of forward planning among my greatest faults. In fact, I am perhaps guilty of too much forward planning at times. Always thinking about the next tasks I need to undertake for my research, or where the kids need to go, or what chores are to be done at home. Always asking what’s next, what’s the plan, what should we do this afternoon, tomorrow, next weekend, next holiday. More than that, I’m a transport planner who does take the time to think about how my discipline can change to tackle the challenges of the 21st century and what I can do to contribute to that debate in some small way.

Thus, as a holy day of new beginnings, it should have been easy for me, the planner, to get in the spirit of Rosh Hashanah. But it wasn’t. And I thought it was maybe because I was thinking too much about the future and all those notes in my diary in pages to come. For there is another name for Rosh Hashanah: the Day of Remembrance. A day to look back and remember what we’ve done that we wished we’d done better, to remember all the people that have come before us, in distant generations or recently passed loved ones. To remember to count our blessings and how lucky we are not to have personally suffered a debilitating illness or a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.

Yet to be honest, I don’t think that my inability to enter into the spirit of the holiday had much to do with a lack of remembering. Despite the weight of tragedy in current events, I force myself to follow the news closely, to not stick my head in the sand no matter how tempting. I appreciate the value of history and learning lessons from it, whether in my own research or as applies to society more generally. And I’ve been acutely aware of my blessings in the last year. Two healthy, happy children becoming ever more engaging and wonderful, a loving husband and extended family, a new professional role as a paid PhD researcher, and a comfortable home in a welcoming community, where I can afford treats as well as the basics. Somehow so far from terrorist attacks and natural disasters, I can’t help but feel lucky. And what can be more holy than counting one’s blessings and being genuinely grateful?

Well, then I thought about the other name for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the 10 days in between for good measure. They are collectively the Days of Awe. How does one feel awe? Not by looking behind or ahead, but by trying to be, to feel right now. Not by bustling or moving or talking, but by stopping. Finding that moment of stillness. That is what I have lacked in the lead up to these holidays. A medieval poem in our liturgy says that once the Shofar blasts, the still, small voice is heard. I blow the Shofar for our congregation, but I had not practiced as much as I usually would before today. And I had not stopped at all to listen for the still, small voice afterwards. I heard it a little today during the service, but I know I don’t hear it often enough.

So perhaps my resolution for this New Year’s should be to stop occasionally. Just to be still, to allow myself to hear the small voice and maybe feel a little of the greater awe. In our busy, daily lives, stillness is available. In the minute before dinner or as I close the bedtime story book. Even in the world of movement, of transport: in that moment on the train platform or at the bus stop; in that pause in my step or on my pedals before I turn onto a main road, even just as the car key comes out of the ignition. The moments, minutes, are there. If I can remember to stop for them.


The Bus on the Wheels goes Round and Round

This isn’t a blog about transport. This is a blog about transport analogies which I am writing in an attempt to describe the year now ending.

Picture an iconic American school bus. Big, yellow, snub-nosed and boxy. Inside, symmetrical rows of brown vinyl bench seats, no ergonomics, no seatbelts (or at least not in my day), no comfort unless you scrunched yourself down into a sky-ward-facing foetal position, knees against the back of the seat in front of you, head well-below the sight-line of the driver’s mirror.

I am not saying that 2016 has made me feel like a teenager again, riding that school bus with frozen hair in the darkness of a winter morning.

Personally, this year gone by has been one of maturation, a year of economic security, family building and learning. Even though I have become a student again, I have not been transported back to a retro lifestyle. My family and I have been driving modern transport; smooth, efficient, even innovative. But the world around me in 2016 seems to be on a different road in a different vehicle.

That vehicle is not the American school bus I described. If it were, I’d be a bit less concerned about where we are heading. There are worse places to go at night than depots filled with seas of yellow nestled by highway exits, or to set out each day to serve the future generations of the United States in their receipt of universal education. The vehicle I am thinking of is what the American school bus becomes when and where it is regenerated for a second life:

Amidst the volcanos and violence of Central America, school buses past their sell-by date are sold and refitted with large truck engines. They are given incredibly colourful paint jobs, and christened with religious slogans and iconography. They become public transport vehicles for people of all ages and purposes, and travel, overloaded, up and down mountain roads at impressive speeds with an appalling safety record.

Years ago, as a tourist in Central America, I was told that the drivers of these works of art do not trust themselves to safely convey their vehicle and its passengers between destinations. Rather they believe that God, Jesus, or Mary is responsible for their journey. Thus the religious symbols and the prayers that accompany every trip. If the bus plummets into a ravine, it will be down to a lack of faith rather than a lack of driver training.

Which seems to suit the events of 2016 and the type of vehicle that half the British and American populations have chosen for the rest of the us. These people have chosen faith over fact, trusting to outdated, overloaded, repurposed vehicles of the 20th century rather than trying to design and modify the emerging models of 21st century transport that could much better serve their needs. Nobody is much bothered if busloads of immigrants, war refugees, climate refugees, even children go over the edge. After all, it is no one’s fault that they fell if they did not pray enough, were not born in the right place at the right time, of the right faith. As the well-loved lives of celebrities were also brushed off their seats on the roof this year, the response may have been mournful, but the bus carried on its ill-starred journey.

And as 2017 looms ahead, where will the bus take us, willing and unwilling passengers and drivers alike? My mind turns to a rather prescient song from the 1980’s children’s television show, Fraggle Rock: Catch a Tail by the Tiger. I encourage anyone to look up the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean. We seem to be headed for a topsy-turvy 2017 where our 2016 ex-American school bus might well be going round on its wheels rather than the wheels going round on the bus.