The electric car paradox

The drive towards a full transition to electric vehicles is omnipresent. This is highlighted by the recent announcement by General Motors, the world’s largest car producer, to transition to a full production line of electric vehicles by 2035 and become a carbon neutral company by 2040. In the UK, the government previously stated that after 2030, no further petrol or diesel cars would be registered for road tax. These are clear, definitive visions with numerous other countries and companies introducing road maps to a more sustainable, low carbon future by phasing out gas guzzling, environmentally unfriendly vehicles.

This is to be applauded, obviously, and without doubt, these kind of road vehicles (before we take to the sky) play a central role in combatting the effects of climate change. Accordingly, cities are scaling up their infrastructure to accommodate increased electric vehicle use with enhanced provision of charging points and parking spaces across urban areas, with planning policy requirements introduced to implement charging capabilities within car parking areas in new developments. With Telsa and NIO taking the market by storm in both the western and eastern hemispheres, it has again become somewhat aspirational to own an electric car as it was a petrol or diesel car generations before, this time with the badge of doing your bit for the environment.

Amongst all this, there remains a contradiction. Yes, electric vehicles will reduce Co2 emissions into the atmosphere and are clearly an improvement on the vehicles they have been designed to replace. However, the ‘future city’ runs the risk of continuing to plan excessive for roads infrastructure, with advancing technology in the e-car world reasonably expected to allow the current stock of cars in the world being replaced entirely by electric vehicles. This should be avoided! City policy-makers must place a robust objective on minimising car use universally, regardless of what powers these vehicles.

Of course, there will always be a need to people to use a 4-wheeled method of travel for a variety of reasons owing to peoples’ location, health and business, amongst many others. The Covid-19 situation is likely to see even more people relying on private cars given social distancing measures and reluctance to utilise public transport, at least until the vaccine is fully distributed. Post-Covid urban planning should continue to prioritise sustainable modes of travel ahead of any car use, and allocate budgets accordingly. This will enhance the quality of city environments for all, promoting social interaction and healthy populations.