Why does Gov't have Office for Low Emission Vehicles but not an Office for Active Travel?

Gov’t reveals national, long-term strategy & subsidies for e-cars

Spot the difference.

Norman Baker, the minister in charge of cycling, stresses that cycling is mostly an issue for local authorities rather than in need of an over-arching national strategy and will only guarantee a small pot of funding for selected cities for two years.

Norman Baker, the minister in charge of electric cars, stresses that electric vehicles need an over-arching national strategy and guarantees a huge pot of funding – including "consumer incentives" and "national infrastructure" – through until at least 2020.

Earlier this year, BikeBiz had it on very good authority that the Department for Transport was considering creating the Office for Active Travel and funding it with £1bn to get Brits out of cars, reducing congestion and leading to whole population health benefits. The Office for Active Travel – discussed in great detail with cycling and walking organisations and experts – was shelved. OAT would have been the ministerial responsibility of Norman Baker.

While walking and cycling lost out on getting a Government "office", auto manufacturers didn’t. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles is a Government office created to boost car sales, and is the ministerial responsibility of, you guessed it, Norman Baker.

In a press release announcing a national, long-term strategy for electric vehicles – ultra low emission vehicles, ULEVs for short – Baker said:

"These are exciting times for the motoring industry as ultra low emission vehicles are the future for road travel…This strategy moves us up a gear in pursuing that vision.

"As well as huge opportunities for the automotive sector, this will bring life-changing benefits to our towns and cities improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions and it will provide energy security by reducing our reliance on foreign oil imports."

There’s plenty of cash for ULEVs:

"We recently announced in our Action for roads paper over £500 million of new capital investment between 2015 and 2020 to continue to support the development and adoption of ULEVs in the UK," said Baker.

"We look forward to working with industry on how best to use this money to make the government’s vision a reality as quickly as possible."

A new ULEV factsheet from the Department for Transport lists five common myths about electric cars and claims they’re not true. Consumers need not be worried they won’t be able to race around city streets: 

"Electric motors develop maximum torque from zero revs," says the Government leaflet. "In plain english this means they are very quick off the mark."

The Department for Transport’s ULEV strategy recognises – but pretty much ignores – that electric cars are the same size as internal combustion cars and won’t reduce congestion. The Government realises there will be more single track vehicles on the roads but still seems fixated by double track vehicles. Four wheels good, two wheels bad.

"[An] increase in urbanisation will put huge pressures on city infrastructure. City planners and policy makers around the world are grappling with the problems of securing the most efficient use of the available space in their urban areas. The increasing density of urban populations will only exacerbate the problems of congestion and air quality that many cities experience today. This could have profound implications for both the nature of the vehicles in our cities, and how we use them.

"Consumers are likely to think hard about what sort of vehicle they need to get around, its cost and local impact. Ordinary bicycles, electric bicycles, electric motorcycles and scooters are all likely to form part of an increasingly diverse range of options for getting around cities."

The Department for (Motorised) Transport also seems to acknowledge the theory of ‘Peak car’ but fails to spot that it’s spending billions on increasing the road capacity for vehicles it thinks might not be around in the future:

"It seems likely that the global population of the future may have a different relationship with the car than that of many people today. A number of countries around the world, including America and the UK are seeing a decline in the uptake of driving licences amongst young people. No-one is yet sure what is causing this change, or whether it is a temporary phenomenon. It might be that the high cost of car ownership and insurance, coupled to problems of congestion and improvements in public transport accessibility are dissuading young people from learning to drive and pursue traditional models of car ownership…The implications of these changes for the move to ULEVs could be significant."

Despite the fact the Government is spending billions on expanding the motorway network, the OLEV strategy document reveals that "most car journeys in the UK are short with…98% being under 50 miles."

The Government admits that "by 2020 between 3% and 7% of all new car sales will be ULEVs" – a tiny, tiny fraction – but it’s essential "this country is in the vanguard of this change."

Baker’s department says: "Our vision is clear and hugely ambitious…Our committed package of support – worth over £1 billion to 2020 – is the strongest possible statement of our determination to achieve it."

In some UK cities – such as Cambridge – the modal share for cycling is 14 percent, rising to 30 percent in some wards. However, there is no "hugely ambitious" long-term plan for cycling in the UK.

The 3 to 7 percent e-car buyers will get Government-sponsored "infrastructure to facilitate refueling and to reassure consumers that they will be able to make the journeys they want to make."

In a stunning statement revealing how the Government is willing to spend money subsidising the motor industry and car buyers the DfT says "there is a limited business case for private investment in new infrastructure until there are sufficient volume of vehicles. This is the ‘chicken and egg’ challenge faced by the ULEV industry and an area where Government intervention is required."

See, the Government is happy to step in to fund national infrastructure for electric cars but won’t do the same for walking or cycling, the infrastructure for which is the responsibility of local authorities only.

But wait, bicycles do get a mention from the Office for Low Emission vehicles:

"Sales of electrically assisted pedal cycles are increasing significantly in Europe and can offer people an alternative route into cycling as a viable commuting option by extending possible commuting distances but still giving fitness benefits…Pulling away and riding uphill and for longer distances are made easier through assistance in pedaling from an electric motor. These bikes can provide mobility to those with limited transport options and open up cycling to those who might otherwise turn to other transport modes. Whilst there are requirements about the maximum power output and weight of electrically assisted pedal cycles that can be used in Great Britain, they have the advantages of being exempt from compulsory registration, insurance and vehicle excise duty. They are a flexible and economic form of transport that is capable of meeting a large proportion of most people’s typical urban journeys. These bikes are available with modern, high-capacity lithium ion batteries and motors that are virtually zero maintenance."

Fantastic plug for e-bikes there. So, the OLEV will offer cash sweeteners to consumers to buy e-bikes? Nope. Only cars and vans.

And it’s not just cash subsidies, purchasers of electric cars should also be provided with "discounted or even free parking" says the Office for Low Emission Vehicles. 

"One of the concerns raised about plug-in vehicles is that claims about their reduced environmental impact, especially carbon, are misplaced because they simply move the point of pollution from a vehicle’s tailpipe to the power station," frets the OLEV.

"It is undeniable that all the ULEV technologies considered in this strategy make some form of environmental impact, whether in the manufacture, use or disposal phases of the vehicles. However, there is consistent evidence that the efficiency benefits of electric propulsion outweigh the potential negative impacts of the technologies in the manufacture and disposal phases."

But there’s no getting away from the fact electric cars will use huge amounts of lithium-ion in their batteries. Lithium ion is in short supply and mostly available from unstable countries with questionable human rights records. Storing up a problem for the future then?

"Electric motors can use rare earth elements, elements which are also often used for other manufactured goods, such as wind turbines, and robotic assembly lines. Increasing demand for such goods, in parallel with the expected increase in demand for battery powered vehicles has raised concerns about the potential demand for such metals exceeding the potential supply and about the energy security implications of dependence on metals which are mined in only a few countries."

Not to worry, though, because "vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers are very focused on the need to minimise their reliance on such elements and are working hard to ensure that successive iterations of their vehicles use less and less of these elements."

The Government also says hydrogen-powered cars will be part of the future. Hmm.

How about reducing reliance on motor cars? Forget it.

"Fundamentally people want vehicles that fit their needs – the type and lengths of journey they want to make and the other demands they have of their vehicle, not least price. Very few people are willing to accept reduced convenience relative to a traditionally fuelled vehicle," says the Government, admitting that it is to roll out a publicity campaign to plug e-cars.

"A degree of scepticism towards the ULEV agenda exists in elements of the mainstream media. This situation can be an inevitable part of the introduction of a new technology but there is a role for Government, and for industry, to engage with opinion formers and provide accurate information for the car-buying pubic…We will work with a consortium of major ULEV manufacturers to explore the case for a national consumer communications campaign. Subject to agreement from all those involved, during 2014 we will launch a platform for providing robust and authoritative consumer information on ULEVs, supported by awareness raising activity."

Part of this campaign may be letting consumers know they don’t have to give up on speed should they switch to electric vehicles. The Government proudly reports that consumers, once given subsidised test drives in e-cars, are very happy with the pedestrian and cyclist killing potential of yer average e-car: "It goes like a rocket," said one consumer.

The tiny e-car market – tiny even by 2020 – needs succour and support, says Department for Motorised Transport: "The need for Government to support the early market will continue over the near term…the market is likely to require continuing support to alleviate a portion of the extra cost of ULEVs."

The Government said it will put in place "national infrastructure" and that it is "wholly committed to this agenda" and "recognises that it will take time." 

And cash.

"We will make provision for over £500 million from 2015 until 2020 to support the growing market for ultra low emission vehicles. We will launch…consumer incentives…We will maintain a strong, clear and lasting set of tax incentives for ULEVs until at least 2020. We will involve industry and wider partners in the process for subsequent development of the tax regime."

The Government’s read-it-and-weep "national, long-term strategy" for a minority of road users (remember, just 3 to 7 percent of cars will be electric ones by 2020, and that’s probably an over-estimate) is a "bold programme showing we are ready to take the difficult decisions required to deliver a transport system that can drive growth for a generation."

Who said that? Norman Baker. The minister in charge of local transport, cycling and walking.

In other news...

Belgian start-up Gofluo raises €1 million to accelerate future growth

Gofluo has raised €1 million to accelerate company growth and expand to the US, France …