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E-cars, Idling Cars, Charging Residents to Park

July 17, 2019

Peter Guest

The environment is rapidly climbing up the political agenda over here. Parts of central London have come to a halt because of demonstrations, and children are lecturing the grown ups about the mess we are leaving them to deal with when we are dust. Amid all this, our blessed politicians have started making noises about changing this and phasing out that to make the world better place for the next generation. 


Now a politician’s life expectancy is 5-10 years; and yet, all the talk is about achieving goals “after 2030” or “by 2040.” I think that it’s a pretty good rule that any political pronouncement about achieving something beyond the timeframe during which the speaker will be in a position to influence what happens is an equal mixture of hot air and hooey.


 


Electric Avenues 


Take Her Majesty’s government’s grand strategy to completely phase out fossil fuelled cars; I think it was by 2050. They had a good start, offering a £5000 grant to anyone buying an e-car. That’s about half the cost difference between a VW Golf and VW e-Golf. They also talked a good fight, but did very little, about establishing a comprehensive network of charging points to support the buyers. 


They were considerably more reticent about the power grid implications of doing this and the end of life environmental implications of all those spent batteries. More proactively, the City of Westminster is introducing, higher parking charges for diesel cars, so in the core areas a diesel will pay 50 percent more to park than a petrol car. E-cars park free.


So, a few people started to buy e-cars, about half as many pro-rata as in the rest of Europe, and our year on year growth is about a quarter as much as the rest of the EU; but I suppose walking down the “right” path slowly is better than not moving at all. 


Are e-cars a good deal? The figures here say that it’s cheaper to own and use an e-car than the fossil fuel alternative over a four-year period. Do remember however, that fuel here is about two and a half times the price in the U.S.A., so the sums will be very different for you guys. Now, the reduction and then abolition of the buyer’s subsidy has stalled sales. So, the issues of price, range fear and recharging persist, but the slow-down in the market has added another deterrent. Faced with falling demand, production lines have slowed, and buyers can now wait a year or more to get sparky.


How does the government see the world? Faced with the facts that we have the smallest and slowest growing e-market in Europe, the Department of Transport tells us that we are “At the forefront of green cars in Europe” and concerns about price and access to recharging are dismissed with statements about Price equalization “expected” by the mid-2020s and the charging network is “anticipated” to be sorted in the 2030s. Hot air and hooey, which is a pity.


 


Idling Engines


That said, the government is actually doing something! Cars that sit with engines idling are a persistent problem, particularly in cities where air quality is already bad, see below. London Boroughs do have powers to ticket offenders, but it seems only after drivers have already been given a warning that they are breaking the law and to desist. 


 Inevitably, many are warned but few are fined, but now the government is proposing instant fines for offenders targeting particularly those sitting outside schools. Indeed, one proposal is to ban car parking within a certain distance of a school completely. This is a particularly sensitive issue here as a young London schoolgirl recently died as a result of an asthma attack induced by traffic generated atmospheric pollution. 


This reminds me of a project that I worked on many years ago for a new road in South East London. A large plot of land adjacent to the road was scheduled for use as allotment gardens where local people could plant vegetables. When studies showed that the vegetables would be so contaminated with lead and other traffic generated pollutants that they would be toxic, an alternative use as a school was proposed.


 


Hooey and Hot Air


Do you ever see an article in the press where someone starts writing with an agenda and as they progress realize that it’s a non-story, nothing to see here, and sort of run out of steam? That happened the other day with an article in no less than The Times. The headline was “Motorists pay £242 million to park outside homes”. That’s a big figure, not monstrous but big. So, what the story? 


First of all, the figure actually relates to three years not one, so £80 million a year is a bit more modest and less attention grabbing. So, I repeat, what’s the story? 


Apparently, during the period 2016-19 there was a six percent increase in the number of roads with pay parking schemes. Hang on! Since when has a road been a unit of measurement? There is no British Standard Road, as anyone who has been here knows. A road could be anything from 50 yards to several miles in length. So, the numbers are just about meaningless. It gets better. 


 Our brave correspondent now tells us that during the same three year period permit applications dropped by 30 percent, from which I think I can unreliably deduce that over the last three years a) there were a number of places where local residents were having problems parking, and so the local council created residents’ parking programs to protect them; and b) since the number of roads had increased, but permit numbers have fallen, fewer residents in the pre-existing schemes used them suggesting perhaps that older schemes should be reviewed for their continued relevance.


Interestingly, the £242million headline figure (think another parking rip off local authority scam) actually turns into about 70 cents a day per car. This in places where meter charges are probably at least a $1.50 an hour. So maybe the headline should have read “Residents get a 95 percent discount on city center parking.” Perhaps, that’s the real story.


Same paper, different story, and this time it’s parking good news. A head teacher at a Manchester school was becoming increasingly alarmed at the numbers of children in his school (one in six) that had asthma and had to use an inhaler. The school is close by two expressways and a busy shopping mall, and he had noticed that many parents drove their kids to school and sat with their engines running outside the building, see above. 


He put his head together with the local police and city council and came up with a cunning plan. The kids were given Police Tabards and “ticketed” the offending vehicles. The ticket is a notice explaining the problem (asthma) and the extra pollution from the idling motors. And it appears to have worked! From 50 offending vehicles a day the problem has just about disappeared, and many of the parents have changed and now walk their kids to school. It seems that education does work after all.


And finally, Heathrow Airport is rumored to be considering a surcharge on older cars bringing people to and from the airport to discourage their use and reduce pollution. So, the problem isn’t a plane taking off and landing every minute then?



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