Happy Electric New Year

In December 2021, as we set out on our annual New Year’s trip to see friends and family, I thought my household was on its last long-distance drive in a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. We had ordered an electric vehicle (EV) in late September and it was supposed to arrive in February. So we had a home charger installed in February, but then no EV.

Three notifications of delay later, and we were facing not only ever-rising petrol prices, but having to service and refinance our family car, as the contract would expire before the new car would be delivered. So after some reassessment, negotiation, and in light of the second-hand car shortages, we managed to secure an 18-month old, ex-demo, but more expensive vehicle make and model for similar monthly payments. It had less range, but a lot nicer finish – and a few bells and whistles we probably never would have ordered!

So I cannot report on a fully electric 2022, but we have had six months of all-EV driving – and parking and charging.

How’s it gone?

Our solar panels kept us topped up for free over the summer, and we only had to charge elsewhere on a single journey to see family. We found a rapid charge point in a retail park a little over halfway there, and had all the energy we needed in the time it took us to pick up a few groceries. Slow charging from an outdoor plug at a relatives’ home was an easy option, and we discovered that another relation had a pre-installed home charger in their recently bought new-build.

A little road trip in October half term was even more satisfactory. We benefitted from VIP parking (and got a charge) at Harry Potter Studios (an attraction I recommend). We then had a couple nights in a holiday cottage in Norfolk, where the EV-owning owners let us use their charger and pay for the electricity with our bill. They were also more than happy to talk about their EV experiences – I was interested to learn they had installed a home charger at an elderly parent’s home to minimise range anxiety when on caring duties.

With Autumn rain, our neighbour’s house blocking the low winter sun and my other half’s daily commute, our EV was ever more rarely chargeable by solar, but we appreciated our smart home charger even more. We could programme our car to charge in the middle of the night and track the energy use in our home. It was useful when our smart meter was on the blink, and more recently helped us benefit from the government’s energy saving scheme.

Our travel patterns over the last six months haven’t change much. We drive for the same sorts of journeys as before, and I walk as much as ever. We’re still a one-car family that occasionally struggles with logistics. We enjoy knowing that our family car is more environmentally friendly, cheaper to run, gets us out of regular journeys to the petrol station, and makes spaceship sounds under 10mph.

On the other hand, on longer journeys in the winter, you have to worry not only about finding a charger, but also finding one that’s operational and available. And if someone else is plugged into the same rapid charger at the same time as you, your EV will charge at half speed or less, result in longer-than-planned stops with antsy children or running the battery down further and feeling range anxiety.

More charging infrastructure would help – and it has been surprising to realise which places have more or less available – but we’ve realised it’s not just about planning ahead, but also planning in a different way than for refuelling.

With an EV, plan to keep topped up, rather than waiting until you’re on a quarter charge (and that includes when charging at home!). Think about how many charge-points are available at a given location, not just where they are. Think about where you can charge when on longer journeys whilst stopped for a meal, rather than simply along a route. Supermarkets might be better bets than motorway services, and you never know whose home might have a charger you can use.

Which leads me to my final point – if EVs are to maximise their potential to drive forward a more sustainable future, EV drivers must come together to share advice, charging, and even vehicles. The more we do so, the more we will be able to wish each other a Happy Electric New Year.

Can we build back fairer?

As we reach the end of a difficult year, we are all looking forward to the next one – one in which we regain the freedom to move around more, go places, see people, participate in activities in person. We have missed out on connecting, which is the main purpose of transport systems. Although it is also the main purpose of telecommunications systems, these could only offer incomplete substitutes for some of the most meaningful types of connecting.

Yet transport systems and the connections they offer cannot, will not, and should not return in all the same forms they took less than a year ago.

We need to continue to encourage walking, cycling and other forms of active travel that improve public health. We need to help people renew their confidence in the safety of public transport. We need to reduce the amount of travel per person, where telecommunications can replace unnecessary mileage.

As the slogans go, we need to support a ‘green recovery’ and ‘to build back better’ in transport as in other sectors. If we are to avoid further crises, it is time to take the decarbonisation of transport seriously and reduce local air pollution as well.

A switch to electric cars is part of the solution, but my current and future research suggests that we need to put this switch into perspective, not only because it is not the whole of any environmental solution, but also because the transition to electric mobility will not be a socially just solution without efforts to make it so.

This year has highlighted the importance of redressing decades of social injustices due to race, poverty, and gender as much as it has taught us not to ignore our vulnerability to natural disasters. It is as important to build back fairer as it is to build back greener.

My research looks at both the social and the environmental through the lens of the transition to electric mobility. If the replacement of petrol and diesel with electric is to be fair and equitable, then how do we recognise different needs and capabilities, enable more participation in identifying solutions, and make sure the relevant infrastructure is built in an accessible way?

Electric cars are very expensive, but they are becoming more affordable to purchase, lease or access on the now-developing second-hand market. Yet what about post-purchase? Any household who can plug their electric car into their home electricity overnight whilst they’re sleeping will rarely have to make a special trip to refuel, and will save money on the daily costs of running a car.

In contrast, those who rent and / or live in flats and terraced housing are less likely to have a private garage or driveway to park and charge an electric car. So how do we build the right sort of charging infrastructure in the right places so that drivers who cannot charge an electric car at home aren’t put at a disadvantage? How do we make public charging affordable?

How do we also make it safe and convenient if such characteristics are subjective and the majority of electric car owners and enthusiasts are currently men? How do we involve women, or those on low incomes, or those from different ethnic backgrounds in the forums on and front lines of implementing electric charging infrastructure?

Will the solutions for central urban areas be the same as those in the suburbs, small towns, or villages? For whom is shared electric transport, or micro-mobility (e.g. e-bikes and scooters) a more accessible solution?

These are the types of questions we need to begin to answer next year, as we all seek to reconnect in not just a green recovery, but an equitable one. Let’s build back better, greener, and fairer.

A Future of Transport Equity?

I’ve been thinking about transport equity this month. I don’t mean transport poverty, although I’ve read some interesting literature on that too recently. But transport poverty is now and transport equity, or rather inequity, is what we are building into the future of mobility through our investment and policy decisions.

Three areas where we might be steering towards future transport inequity have been on my mind.

The first is electric vehicles. Many see a transition to electric vehicles as the solution to a low-carbon future. Yet my current research explores how mass adoption of plug-in electric vehicles might be delivered when at least a third of car drivers have no ability to park and charge their vehicles at their homes. Many of these people, who may be living in flats or small terraces or rented accommodation without private parking are unlikely to be able to afford the purchase price of battery electric vehicles anyway. Yet even if costs come down and the second-hand market grows, their lack of driveways and garages mean they would still fail to benefit from the ultra-low refuelling costs of slow-charging overnight using home electricity. There are solutions, and we are researching their social sustainability, but it is hard to see how state subsidies for private electric vehicle purchase will lead us to an equitable future of mobility. (Never mind the implications for congestion, urban environments, lithium mining…)

The second transport, or, more accurately, access equity issue that I’ve been mulling over is online access. Online access was a big part of my doctoral research, and as I defended my thesis this month, the external examiner acknowledged that I’d mentioned the equity aspect of online access, but questioned whether I addressed it directly enough. Indeed, the more I think about my analysis of the potential resilience and sustainability of telecommuting as an option to access work activities during transport disruption, the more I realise that it is an option for far too few, and those few tend to be among the more privileged. It does not have to be that way. Changes in government and corporate policy to promote computer skills and allow remote and autonomous working could enable telecommuting to be available to many more sectors of society. But there must also be investment in infrastructure that delivers both availability and quality online access to all – and I’m not sure the current preoccupation with 5G allows that.

Finally, it’s been hard to ignore recent headlines on HS2. Whatever you think about the political agenda or ballooning budget, a new high speed rail service will mainly serve relatively wealthy commuters, as, like telecommuting, rail commuters tend to be found among those with higher incomes. Especially if they’re travelling to benefit from London’s already bloated job market. One can’t help but agree with those who suggest the money might better be spent on local transport, reduced rail fares, or any number of other things. Unless there’s plenty in the coffers for both HS2 and the rest of the wish list, you’d be hard pressed to argue that this is socially-progressive infrastructure investment.

In conclusion, I am not against high-speed rail, 5G or other advanced information and communication technologies, nor electric vehicles and charging systems. Yet if this is all that policy is promoting or institutional actors are investing in, it will leave large portions of society behind and create the transport and access poverty of the future. Instead, I’m advocating for a bit more attention to transport equity when planning the future of mobility and accessibility.

Start at your Destination

This year’s Transport Planning Network Conference was all about visioning. Which is the process by which a desirable future is imagined and then you work backwards to find how you can get there.

But starting at your destination is tricky. People carry a lot of baggage from the past and present. It’s difficult to think about what you would like to see, when you’re constantly feeling the pressure of what you think you could actually accomplish. Even if such thinking may hold you back.

Indeed, if you have not been trained on images of Freiburg and Copenhagen and Dutch transport planning, it can be difficult to ‘see’ the vision in the first place, even if pockets of it are right around the corner. Our first keynote speaker, Professor Emeritus Phil Goodwin noted that not only vested interests and political resistance are holding us back from visions of pedestrian paradise. People in their communities are often so car dependent that they may not be able to see any viable alternative for a low-car future of mobility that will allow them to fully participate in economic, civic, and social life.

Which is why one of our other speakers, James Gleave, asked us to think about what powers transport and planning professionals are willing to give up to help people dig through the practical, cultural, and social influences that affect their choices so that they can develop, define, and perhaps even deliver their own visions for their own communities. In such a scenario, transport planners might become more than regulators and legislators or even funders. They could take roles as leaders and educators, stewards and customers, negotiators and reformers.

And these suggestions fit in well with the other challenges to developing a future of mobility that is visionary.

Keith Mitchell noted that despite the push to prioritise housing numbers over places, the private sector is already looking at what other roles they should fulfil to deliver better visions. Tackling climate change and social value are gaining prominence in their tenders for work.

Leo Murray noted that technology, and particularly EVs, cannot alone solve the climate emergency. By some calculations, a reduction of 60% in vehicle miles travelled is required by 2030, and it won’t happen without a vision – and different roles for planning professionals to make sure that vision is shared.

Besides, even where legislation and policy support already exist, from the Climate Change Act to legislation and policy on equity and inclusion, as Joanna Ward noted, it may be the lack of diversity and awareness of different access needs among decision-makers which is perpetuating biases.

Our second keynote speaker, Lynda Addison OBE, summed up the problem perfectly. Not only do we need to start with a vision, which is our destination, but that collaborative vision should be based on the premise that ‘Transport is the solution, not the problem’. Then, instead of transport being something to mitigate through the land use planning process, sustainable travel choice are part of the vision we are working towards through the spatial planning process. Plans and planning applications can respond to the vision through inter-disciplinary evidence gathering and iterative thinking.

In other words, start at your destination, your vision, then work backwards, but your path will not be linear, but circular. Ask: What exists already that fits the vision? What opportunities or obstacles sit between where you are now and where you want to be? What actions can you or your organisation take and what actions must be taken by others, by people working at a larger or smaller scale? We asked questions of this sort in the final workshop of the event.

And we discovered a few answers. Not all, as an iterative process means going back and forth between the vision and those questions, not just as a small group of transport planners, but as wider communities. Yet we certainly learned a few things. One of which is how difficult it is to start at your destination!

Siloed Sustainability

Sustainability is all about securing, if not a better future, than at least one that is not a whole lot worse for our children and subsequent generations.

This ambition is usually described as having three pillars: Society, Economy, and Environment. It is not unusual to hear that one of these pillars has been given undue priority or another has been unfairly ignored.

But in the last couple of years, I have become aware of another aspect of siloed sustainability. Not three pillars but two challenges, which seem to rarely be considered or addressed by the same people or research. These are the twin climate challenges of mitigation and adaptation.

In transport circles, you might hear about them in discussions of infrastructure resilience or reducing car use. But you are unlikely to hear these discussions in the same room, around the same table.

This is a problem because many agree that the only way the transport sector can really tackle either the climate emergency or emergencies caused by climate change is by highlighting as many ‘co-benefits’ of sustainable (and resilient?!) transport as possible. For example, switching to active travel modes like walking and cycling not only reduces carbon emissions, but is also good for your health and your wallet.

Yet who asks if active travel has a resilience co-benefit or can be promoted as an adaptation measure? True, it seems unlikely that walking or cycling will be attractive options if the weather is too hot or too wet much more often.

However, that is too simplistic a view. Integration of land use and transport planning is key to increasing active travel, with more local service provision. Reducing the distance residents have to travel to access essential services during transport disruption makes communities more resilient because, maybe not during the storm, but when faced with post-storm flooding, walking to a local food shop or pharmacy is probably more practical than driving to such facilities further away.

Yet how often is such a scenario taken into account by those making policy, strategy, and decisions on the sustainability of transport proposals or land use planning developments? And what tools do highways teams have at their disposal to help communities without local services maintain accessibility when they have to close a road after flooding has occurred? The unsatisfactory answers to these questions are a manifestation of siloed sustainability planning.

Another example is the promotion of online access as a sustainable travel alternative. Transport researchers enthusiastically investigated the potential of ICT to reduce the need to travel, and thus reduce the environmental, economic, and social impacts of travel, including congestion, carbon emissions, and severance. However, there have been some disappointing results. Online shopping increases the vehicle mileage required for deliveries. Regular telecommuters tend to live further from their place of employment and make more trips for purposes other than commuting, resulting in only minimal reductions in their travel.

Yet these analyses do not consider the potential of online access to provide a resilient alternative to travelling. Information and communication technology infrastructure is often newer, more robust in extreme weather, and has more redundancy built in due to competition between providers than traditional road and rail networks.

Thus, a proactive approach to integrating online and transport access options would help communities adapt during extreme weather and give them a greater ability to continue to interact socially, maintain productivity, and respond in real time to an emergency. Only the siloed nature of planning for sustainability leaves such integration until the last minute and results in a reactive and piecemeal approach.

Therefore, just as we try to ‘join up’ our thinking on the three pillars of sustainability in order to build a holistic perspective, let’s also not forget to break down the invisible silos between adaptation and mitigation. It will help us all do our jobs better and deliver a better future.

A Haggadah for Transport Planning

To continue my self-imposed tradition, this is the time of year when I wish a Happy Passover to all the closeted transport planners of a Jewish persuasion out there by writing a blog that brings Passover and transport planning together.

Over the last four years, I tended to focus on the story of the Exodus, but this year, I thought I’d look at a different aspect of the holiday: The Haggadah, that all-important booklet that provides the Order for the Seder. Or the Order for the Order. For Seder literally translates as Order, which, considering the chaos that often attends the Passover prayers, festivities, and food of which Jews partake around the dinner table with friends and family, ‘order’ may seem a bit of a misnomer (especially in my family?!). But a good Haggadah can make sense of the occasion. Likewise, good transport planning aims to make sense of the cacophony of spaces we travel through and the ways and means by which we do so.

What specific parallels can I find between transport planning and a Haggadah? Four is an important number during the Seder. The proceedings are punctuated by four cups of wine representing God’s four promises of freedom and redemption. Four is an important number in transport planning too. For example, besides the various debates around accommodating two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles, transport modelling is traditionally divided into four – trip generation, trip distribution, modal split, and trip assignment.

I can also imagine breaking the middle matzah and hiding half for the children to find as an afikomen to be a metaphor for filtered permeability – breaking up the road network for children and others who cannot drive so they can find more routes safely open to them. And what about the Hillel sandwich? Transport planners often have to think about balancing space for different groups, just as we balance the bitter with the sweet in that symbolic food.

The most important parts of the Seder, however, are telling the story and having the festive meal. It is important too that transport planning has a narrative about place, community, and connectivity. Like in the Haggadah, where the story starts with the four questions, any transport planning narrative should start by questioning how assumptions and standards actually apply in what are often different, if not unique contexts. And just as the festive meal brings the whole family or congregation together, so transport planning should deliver places that everyone in the community can partake of and connections that allow everyone to have their fill of access to what they need and options to get there.

Finally, towards the end of the Seder, we open the door for the prophet, Elijah, in hopes that he will herald a better future. Likewise, if transport planning is to be a success, then any order or organisation which it brings to the myriad of movement made by people and goods must be future-proofed and help us to a better future. So a transport planning Haggadah might conclude with the prayer of ‘Next year in a sustainable transport paradise!’

Evidentially, my dear Watson

I recently chaired a panel at the Transport Planning Network’s annual event, which presented evidence on the wider benefits of integrating transport and land use planning to promote sustainable transport. The panel was fairly academic, but the presentations were short, snappy, and discussed their area of evidence at a relatively generalist level. There was little that I hadn’t heard before. The audience was full of transport planners and land use planners working in local government, consultancies, and a few from charities, academia or other non-profit organisations with an interest in transport and land use planning. Before opening the panel for questions from the floor, I asked the audience how many had heard at least one piece of evidence that was completely new to them. The response was surprising. So many hands went up that I couldn’t see whether there were any that remained down.

Sherlock Holmes’ famous catch phrase is a contradiction. His deductions are only elementary if they are sitting on a mountain of evidence, and knowledge about that evidence, such as where the evidence in question was made, under what circumstances, etc. At the transport planning event, it would seem that even professionals in the field are sitting on a mountain of evidence, but have not been given the knowledge to interpret it. Now it may be that many in the audience could interpret portions of the evidence. Maybe they knew what economic agglomeration means for sustainable urban forms, but they didn’t know how physical inactivity causes chronic inflammation. Maybe they knew all about the proportion of greenhouse gas emissions caused by longer distance car trips, but they didn’t realise how that could be translated into proportion of transport emissions from dispersed settlement patterns.

The point still remains that there was something they didn’t know. As another task on my list at the moment is writing an article about sustainable mobility that can be understood by people at graduate level outside the discipline, it raises an interesting question if even those in the discipline don’t know some of the key reasons why sustainable mobility matters. Now, I am tasked more with defining the ‘what’ than describing the ‘why’ in this article, but how much information gives people enough to construct the knowledge on which to act?

Another recent trip I made was to take a short course for post-graduates who want to do a little teaching. In that course, there is some discussion about the need to construct knowledge through active learning. Presenting the information is not enough. For students to be able to incorporate the information into their own body of knowledge, the information needs to be presented in such a way that it builds on what they already know and understand, and they need to be engaged in its exploration through asking questions, discussing its relevance, etc.

For information, substitute evidence. Sure, we had a fairly long Q & A session after the panel presentations, but were more than a dozen people truly engaged in active learning? I asked a simple question about whether any of the information presented was new. I didn’t get to ask them whether anything was partially familiar or how it might relate to what evidence they were already using. Evidence is so important to make the case for sustainable transport, sustainable development, sustainable governance. And that case is mainly being made, not to planning professionals, but to politicians and the public, most of whom are even less likely to be familiar with the academic research in the discipline. So hopefully, the Transport Planning Network event fulfilled its aim to build on evidence that the audience already understood, because only then would they have a chance of applying that evidence to their local projects and passing it on to decision-makers and the public in such a way that sustainability meets acceptability.

Note: The Transport Planning Network is a professional network of over 1600 members administered by the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Transport Planning Society.

The Myth-ing Truth

“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Col. Jessep spits at Lt. Kaffee in the 1992 blockbuster, A Few Good Men.

It was a favourite film in my early teens. I could have quoted whole scenes at the time, but I haven’t seen it for many years. So what made me think of it?

I was reading tweets trending under #cycleactivecity, the Twitter Handle for the Cycle City Active City conference in Leicester on 19-20 May. I should have been there. I had been scheduled a short slot to speak about bike share, but I couldn’t make the logistics / finances of childcare and travel stack up. So I was checking what people there were tweeting about.

Someone had used the opportunity to launch a new website: Cycling Fallacies: http://cyclingfallacies.com/en/.

I admire this initiative and the interactive approach to dispelling common myths about cycling. The authors clearly believe that at least people at a conference on cycling can handle the truth. But does the website itself have a handle on those truths? I’m a transport planner with an ongoing passion for the promotion of sustainable transport and with experience delivering cycle strategy and infrastructure. Surely, I would recognise whether the listed cycling fallacies were myths or not. I had a look.

Yes, there they were. Commonly-heard statements like hilliness or weather or the absence of the Dutch ‘culture’ causing the lack of cycling in Britain. I agree that statements like these aren’t true, and I could give as much or more evidence than the website does as to why.

Some statements of myth were less common, but perhaps because they were so patently false, no explanation was required. Surely, I thought, people aren’t actually claiming that cycling causes congestion, nor that one can’t cycle without getting sweaty. When I used to cycle to work, I simply pedalled slower to avoid the need for a shower on arrival.

Yet I also spotted statements that were less clear-cut fallacy. For example, the need for increased driver education and cyclist skills training are not mythical. They are positive measures, even if they would not solve issues of cycle safety nor increase rates of cycling on their own. I doubt many transport planners or interested members of the public would profess that such measures should be taken in isolation nor that offering training undermines plans to implement cycle infrastructure.

Finally, I saw a statement which challenged me: “Everyone needs to share the road.” Surely, that is truth, not myth? I clicked on it. The explanation was that we can’t depend upon people travelling by car to respect the needs of cyclists on busy roads, so segregation is required. Ok, so maybe I have a different definition of sharing. I was thinking more of the road space, not necessarily the running lanes of a busy distributor road.

That thought might still be myth-understanding the fallacy purported in the original statement. I have been reading Dr Steve Melia’s book, Urban Transport without the Hot Air (2015), and he is also in the business of dispelling myths. He has a chapter on cycling myths and one on shared space myths. If the goal is to increase walking and cycling, he counsels against cycle lanes, shared pedestrian/cycle routes, and the complete ‘decluttering’ advocated by the shared space movement. He points to a lack of evidence on the effectiveness of the latter, and the assumption that there are different ‘types’ of cyclists as myth-takenly supporting the former two approaches. [I noted he attributed this assumption to the vocal British ‘sports’ cyclists and its once representative body, the CTC.] Rather, there should be space allocated fully to each mode on busy streets and ‘filtered permeability’ (through routes for cyclists and pedestrians, but not motor vehicles) on quiet streets.

So is that the myth-ing truth? If so, I think I can handle it.



STIP Forward

Ten years ago, world leaders of almost 200 nations reached an historic agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the worst impacts of global warming by targeting a global temperature rise of no more than 1.5C. The Paris climate compact of 2015 was not without flaws and compromise, but it was a great achievement to secure signatures from so many countries to a legally binding document on addressing climate change.

One key element agreed was to review progress every five years. The national pledges in 2015 were insufficient to meet the 1.5C or even 2C maximum target, so ambition and action had to ramp up over time. But it was not a smooth ride. Some of the pledges were delayed by domestic politics or watered down by links to economic indicators.

However, the global agreement galvanised cities, who met in a parallel conference at the time. In just five years, walking, cycling, shared electric transport and public transport became the preferred modes of travel and of delivery over private motor vehicles run on fossil fuels. Cities pushed for green building standards, retrofitting buildings for the 21st century and insisting on carbon neutrality for iconic new developments. Such initiatives were supported by large private sector investment, as companies strove to become market leaders in the green economy and secure high-skilled employment for the future.

Thus, the world was on target in 2020 due to local action. However, to continue on that path over the last five years has required the international community to step forward again. We live in a local-global world, where nations can only offer so much, where countries may have less power over their own environment than a group of their neighbours.

Therefore, we have prepared this document, to be modified and ratified at the Climate Review 2025 conference in December. It is the Spatial, Trans-national Infrastructure Plan, and it brings together all infrastructure matters which are international and/or inter-continental. Such matters include aviation, shipping, long-distance pipelines, aqueducts and viaducts, watersheds and river systems, satellites and space installations.

Scientists, activists, economists, planners, senior civil servants, and diplomats have contributed to the pages of the STIP, ensuring it is based on accurate data and appropriate forecasts. We are aware that many of these topics are of strategic, international importance and must be dealt with delicately. However, as was highlighted in 2015, their absence in the original agreement and in many national pledges undermined the ambitions of the accord. Therefore, this Plan considers the impacts and outcomes of such infrastructure on trans-national and global climate without reference to national boundaries in order to maintain neutrality.

Through the work of trans-national teams and computers programmed to remove national bias, this document then offers spatial recommendations for international, inter-continental and global infrastructure. For example it proposes the appropriate number of hub airports and flight patterns in, to and from Western Europe to maximise the carbon efficiency of aviation, without undermining national economies.

We are offering to the world what many countries should offer to their citizens if they are serious about social, economic and environmental sustainability: spatial planning. If accepted by world leaders at the 2025 Review, these spatial planning recommendations will help us take the next step or STIP in preserving our planet for future generations.


Sarah Gomez-Chen

UN Climate Ambassador

November 2025





Compelling Climate Sceptics

Since the debate began, a few decades ago now, there have been climate change evangelists and fossil fuel fundamentalists. The followers of the former are climate change converts with varying degrees of eco-warrior activity, whilst the followers of the latter are climate change sceptics with varying degrees of gratuitous carbon consumption. Then there is everyone else; people who don’t pay too much attention to the debate, but swing one way or another in terms of the carbon emissions of their actions depending on which direction the currents of legislation, taxes, campaigns and cultural norms sweep them.

Transport is a major source of carbon emissions, so it is no surprise that it can often be a battle ground between evangelists and fundamentalists. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) release yet another report to a world that seems to be in a trend towards scepticism or at least indifference, I have seen a policy swing away from sustainable transport towards road-building and pro-motorist policies. What are sustainable transport promoters like myself to do? I would suggest we use different artillery.

I have long been of the view that the buzzword ‘sustainability’ is not a synonym for ‘environmentally-friendly’ or ‘low carbon’. It encompasses those concepts, yet is intended to mean so much more. Think of it, perhaps, as a synonym for a long-term solution. In the case of transport, we are looking for a long-term solution for all the people that want to travel now to get where they want to go. I propose that walking, cycling and public transport offer better long-term solutions, and thus are more sustainable than car use for reasons beyond climate change. Reasons that the general population, climate change sceptics and even those who, like myself, are followers in the cause of climate change yet without much passion are likely to find more personally compelling.

Reason number one: congestion. Otherwise known as traffic jams or at least the inability to drive as fast as the speed limit and road layout allow. Everyone could drive carbon-neutral electric cars (assuming that the electricity doesn’t come from fossil-fuelled power stations, of course) and it would not solve the problem of congestion in towns, cities or on the strategic road network. Walking, cycling and (busy) public transport are all much more efficient ways to travel in terms of space used per person.

Building more roads creates more space for the car, but it is not sustainable in the sense that there are a finite number of cars that can fit on our road network and a finite amount of land to use for roads in places where people want to travel between homes and jobs, services and facilities. There are even fewer options if valuable housing or employment land is excluded. In the centre of our biggest cities, like London, one might almost say there is a negative amount of land for new roads. That’s why the congestion charge there makes sense. It’s not an environmental measure to reduce carbon, although that is a co-benefit. It’s a measure to tackle congestion.

Reason number two: health. We live in an age of sedentary jobs and sedentary leisure activities. Yet our bodies require quite a lot of moving around to operate at their optimum. What better way to fit regular exercise into your daily routine, for no additional cost, than walking and cycling when you need to travel? It’s a lot cheaper than a gym membership and you can save money compared to driving. If the distances are longer, taking public transport usually provides the opportunity to walk at one or both ends of the journey. Depending on the route, distance and infrastructure, walking, cycling and public transport might take less time than driving. Even when it takes more time to travel, you save the time you were otherwise planning to spend forcing yourself to jog around the block. Exercising more, being healthier – doesn’t that equate to a more sustainable lifestyle?

Reason number three: ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ Okay, the motor industry does contribute substantially to the world’s economic output. But what about the cost of owning a car, even before fuel prices or parking charges? A family who keeps one car on the road instead of two can save a lot of money. Then there’s the cost of congestion to lost productive time, the cost to businesses of absenteeism due to low physical fitness, the cost of traffic accidents and yes, even pollution. I’m thinking of local air pollution, not just carbon. The stuff that can give people chronic respiratory conditions, with high healthcare costs. The cost to the healthcare system of all these sedentary, unfit families is even higher. So sustainable travel is sustainable for the economy and particularly your household economy.

The IPCC is now 95% sure that man-made climate change is occurring. A large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions are coming from vehicle tailpipes. But if you’re still a climate sceptic, I hope you find that one of the sample of other sustainabilities I describe compels you to occasionally leave your car at home.